South Eastern Virginia Therapy Dogs
Love on a Leash
It's easiest to say what it is not. Pet therapy dogs are NOT animal assistance dogs that help individuals with physical disabilities. Pet therapy dogs visit health care facilities, schools, and residential institutions to provide emotional support to children and adults. These dogs are there to be stroked, held, and sometimes just watched.
Many residents in health care facilities and institutions have fragile minds and bodies. They may live at the facilities for months to years at a time, with limited contact with every day life. By petting and holding a dog, a youngster or adult can connect with a life that makes no demands. A youngster can still just be a kid when a dog is around. The touch of a furry flank usually draws a smile, and a lick is the springboard for many a giggle. The dogs provide a "non-judgmental" connection to people who have a fragile physical/mental connection to daily life.
Pet therapy certification gives you additional peace of mind (never a guarantee) that your dog was successfully tested to be non-aggressive and not skittish, mannerly in mock social situations, and obedient to your basic commands. Most of the certify bodies also provide an umbrella of insurance for accredited members should there be an incident during a pet therapy visit.
There are several national certifying bodies with standard tests to ensure that dogs can handle mock public situations in a positive and acceptable manner. This certification is performed by evaluators who have extensive experience in pet therapy, dog training, and working with dogs in public situations.
Most pet therapy certify groups, such as Therapy Dogs International and Therapy Dogs Incorporated, have accredited testers evaluate dogs in a series of 14 - 22 tests to determine their behavior and attitude in mock public and institutional situations. These situations include: walking through a crowd, meeting/greeting a friendly stranger, and response to medical equipment.
In addition, dogs are tested on basic commands such as come, sit, down, and stay, and walking nicely on a leash. The evaluator is reviewing the dogs to ensure that their behavior is mannerly, their responses to commands are correct, and they are calm throughout the testing. Many a dog fails the testing because while he knows the commands correctly and walks well on a leash, he backs away when a friendly stranger reaches to pet him or acts aggressively or shyly when someone in a wheelchair comes close.
A key element of testing is to weed out dogs that are fearful or aggressive, both of which can mean a biting dog.
While individual certifying bodies have minor variations in requirements, most open their programs to purebred and mixed breed dogs that are at least one year old, male or female, spayed/neutered or not. Females in heat are asked not to make visits during the heat cycle.
If your dogs likes people, likes to visit new places, and is eager to get out and about, you have the right raw ingredients. Training and experience in public places builds the framework from which a dog/handler can pass pet therapy testing.
Most of the handlers and dogs who successfully complete the tests have gone through two or more basic dog obedience classes. Dog obedience classes are NOT required, but they bolster your chance of success. There are no "pet therapy classes," per se, but you can ask an instructor if he or she is familiar with pet therapy and if the current class program supports this preparation.
The following centers or facilities are just a few with classes that will complement your goal to do pet therapy:
Bedlamb Bestiary - (898-6250) York County
Canine Training Unlimited - (436-3973) Chesapeake
Coastal Dog Services - (930-2257) Newport News
Pawsitive Attitudes, LLC - (Patty Allen 757-646-1037 / Gail Hicks 757-639-7860) Carrollton
Merrimac Dog Training Center - (723-8141) Hampton
Pet Paradise – (238-8838) Carrollton
Pet therapy testing is held periodically on both the Peninsula and the Southside. Check the TDI website (http://www.tdi-dog.org/events.html#Virginia) for test times
There are several organized pet therapy groups from Williamsburg to the Southside. These groups have regularly scheduled pet therapy visits on weekdays and weekends at a host of nursing homes and larger institutions. You do NOT have to join an organized group; however, it is encouraged so that you see experienced dog and handler teams work.