Q. How do I go about seeing if I can have my dog trained to be a therapy dog (and for me to become a volunteer)?
Thank you for asking this important question. First, I want to say that it is quite an admirable act to seek out therapy dog training with your dog - this type of work is very powerful and can enrich the lives of others in need while connecting you with your community. Witnessing the healing power of the human-animal bond can be a fulfilling and meaningful endeavor and both you and your dog will learn and grow from this experience. It has been well documented that interacting with a dog (or other domesticated animal) can reduce blood pressure, ease stress and anxiety, and contribute to an overall sense of well being. Specifically, for those with compromised immune systems because of cancer or other illnesses, as well as those with a history of trauma, abuse or mental illness, this type of therapy is truly a gift. The presence of a loving, warm and accepting creature can provide relief to those coping with all types of illnesses and can create a deep sense of connection, healing and hope.
There are different ways to approach the process of volunteering with your dog. Some organizations require you to go through a registration process, whereas others require you to obtain certification. Registration requires you to have your dog evaluated by a therapy dog evaluator, then your dog can go on to become registered within your state. Certification requires a bit more involvement with the dog and handler upfront (called a “therapy animal team”), but this route also provides more comprehensive training and support from a team of professionals. The steps to become a certified therapy animal team include a required evaluation of your dog’s basic abilities and temperament, as well as an assessment of your own comfort with your dog and the public. Next, there are several classes that you and your dog will attend to become certified and registered in your state. If you would prefer to pursue the certification route, there is an organization called Pet Partners that conducts a training called “How to Become a Registered Therapy Animal Team.” If you would prefer to simply have your dog registered, you can contact Therapy Dogs International to get you started
Whichever route you choose, this is a wonderful and worthwhile endeavor. Good luck to you and your dog as you learn to help others together.