Pet therapy is gaining popularity nowadays, thanks to the multitude of positive outcomes it offers. Studies show that pets can improve mental health and overall wellbeing by reducing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, and boosting mood among many other benefits.
But not all pets can be therapy animals – it takes a particular set of skills and qualities to make an animal appropriate for the job. In this blog post, we'll discuss the characteristics that make a great therapy animal and how to determine if your pet has what it takes.
What is a therapy animal?
A therapy animal is not just any ordinary pet. These remarkable animals are vital in helping people with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities cope with their everyday challenges. Unlike service animals, therapy animals do not perform specific tasks for their owners. Instead, they provide comfort, love, and joy to those who need it most.
From children with autism to elderly patients battling dementia, therapy animals have a unique ability to connect with people in ways that words cannot describe. They have proven to be an effective form of therapy, providing unconditional love that can help brighten even the darkest of days. Therapy animals are truly special creatures that continue to change countless lives for the better.
Things to consider if you want your pet to be a therapy animal
First and foremost, a therapy animal must have a calm and gentle temperament. They should be easy to train and comfortable in a variety of social situations.
This is particularly important since therapy animals are brought into various settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. They should enjoy being pet and touched by strangers and not be easily startled or agitated by sudden movements or noises.
If your pet is anxious or easily scared, pet therapy may not be the right fit for them - and that's completely okay! Those pets can provide comfort and love in their own way, they just may not be a good fit for a more "professional" role.
Another essential quality that makes a great therapy animal is patience. Therapy animals often spend hours in one location, listening to people's troubles or sitting quietly beside them.
They need to feel comfortable around all different kinds of people with varying needs. They must not get easily bored, irritated, or need frequent breaks from interaction.
If your pet has a low tolerance for long sessions or is easily distracted, then a career in pet therapy may not be suitable for them.
Training and obedience are crucial in ensuring your pet is ready for pet therapy. They should be trained in basic commands and be able to follow them even in distracting environments.
Good manners and obedience are fundamental when visiting clients since therapy pets must exhibit excellent behavior and etiquette when interacting with humans. They should be trained to respond well to distractions, other animals, and unknown visitors.
Above all, a therapy animal should be well-socialized and comfortable around people.
Is it right for your pet?
Pet therapy is not for every animal, and it's essential to listen to your pet's needs and behavior. Therapy animals are exposed to stressful situations, and it's crucial to watch for signs of distress and burnout in your pet.
They must be given enough rest and time to recharge to avoid overworking them. You should also consider other factors, like age and health, since older pets or animals with health issues may become fatigued after long sessions.
If you believe that your pet has what it takes to become a therapy animal, talk to your vet to determine if they're physically and mentally ready for the job.
The work of a therapy animal can be life-changing, and if your pet has the right skills and qualities, they can make an incredible difference in someone's life.
How to make your dog a therapy dog
Here's a step-by-step guide to help you through the process:
Assess Your Dog's Temperament: A therapy dog must be calm, gentle, patient, and social. They should not show any signs of aggression and must be comfortable around strangers and other animals.
Complete Basic Obedience Training: Before you even think about therapy training, your dog must have a solid foundation in basic obedience skills like sit, stay, come, and heel. It's also essential that they walk well on a leash.
Consider Professional Training: Many organizations that certify therapy animals offer specific training courses. These courses are designed to prepare your pet for the unique situations they may encounter as a therapy animal.
Pass an Evaluation: Most therapy organizations require an evaluation to ensure that your dog is suitable for this role. The evaluation may include an assessment of how your dog reacts to loud noises, sudden movements, medical equipment, etc.
Register with a Therapy Organization: If your dog passes the evaluation, you'll typically need to register them with a recognized therapy organization. Registration often involves a fee and may require periodic re-evaluation to ensure continued suitability.
Keep Up with Health Checks: Regular veterinary care is essential for therapy animals. They must be up to date on vaccinations and free from parasites and other health issues.
Start Volunteering: Once registered, you can start volunteering in various settings, such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and more. Remember to always follow the guidelines and rules set by the institution where you and your dog are volunteering.
Continue Ongoing Training and Socialization: Even after becoming certified, it's vital to continue working with your dog to ensure they remain comfortable and well-behaved in all situations.
Please consult with local therapy animal organizations in your area to understand the specific requirements and opportunities available to you and your pet. It can be a highly rewarding experience for both you and your dog, but it also requires commitment, patience, and understanding.
Therapy animals provide love, support, and comfort to those who need it most, so take your time to ensure your dog is truly prepared for this important role.
Lizz Caputo is the Manager of Content Strategy at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.