Ready, Set, Heal! 10 Tips to Get Your Pup Ready for the Therapy Dogs International Evaluation

Mac’s tail sweeps the floor as we sign in. He stamps his feet in anticipation. Anyone in a wheelchair, which is just about everyone here at the senior care center, is targeted for potential petting. He pulls me toward a smiling woman, plops his big head in her lap, and sighs deeply.

Therapy dogs bring a bit of happiness to those in need of comfort, stimulation, and physical contact with a warm, furry body. It's a give-and-get relationship: give a wet puppy kiss, get a belly rub. Everybody wins. Mac’s chilled-out attitude makes him perfect for spending time with older folks, but you may wish to pursue working with at-risk kids or disaster victims. If you want your pup to become a therapy dog, it will take a little work to get ready for the temperament and obedience components of the Therapy Dogs International test. As a certified evaluator for TDI, I can offer some tips for getting your pet ready:

Try these tips to prepare her for the temperament portion of the test:

  • Practice your dog’s poise during outings to public areas. Confidence is a hallmark of Therapy dogs.
  • Introduce her to friendly, cooperative people. Your dog should be people-centric and calm during meet-and-greets.
  • Let your dog watch kids play in the park. Take treats with you to redirect the desire to stalk or chase.
  • Expose your dog to noise from a distance. Construction sites are great for desensitizing.
  • Watch for signs of fear or avoidance. Fast yawning is an attempt to relieve temporary stress, and turning away from people means your dog has had enough.

Don’t neglect the obedience portion, even if your dog is an ace. Plenty of dogs will do the hard parts, but pretend the word Stay is totally foreign to them. Keep these tips in mind for the obedience portion:

  • Take a nice, long leash walk before the test so you can both relax. Evaluators are looking for calmness.
  • Remember it is a team effort. You are being judged as soon as you arrive, so stay in control of your dog.
  • Stay loose and use lots of body language to encourage the dog. This shows the evaluator you can communicate with your dog.
  • Be patient and work through any glitches with a smile. You may repeat commands if your dog doesn’t immediately comply.
  • Praise your dog in a low-key way. Keep celebrations on hold until the test is over.

Our visits to the senior center aren’t physically demanding work, but Mac sleeps for hours afterward. I know he has lifted some of the stress off of stooped shoulders and absorbed it into his own stout body. Gruff, scowling men soften and tell me about dogs from their childhood. One woman that rarely spoke now rubs Mac’s ears and talks to him in complete sentences. Think you and your dog would make a good Therapy team? Check out the fifteen point test at www.tdi-dog.org.

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