A therapy dog is a dog that can be taken to venues such as hospitals, hospices, private homes and other places, to allow people who may benefit from it to meet and spend some time with a dog.
This is understandably rather different than being a service dog, which requires years of training and management and a lot of money-and many therapy dogs are privately owned by people who are prepared to put in some time and effort to teach your dog the essential skills that they will need.
If you are wondering what it takes to turn an everyday pet dog into a therapy dog, or are wondering if your own dog has what it takes, read on to find out more about the core traits all good therapy dogs possess, and how to assess your own dog.
Why are therapy dogs useful?
Many people love dogs, and as any dog owner will tell you, simply spending time with your dog or being greeted by them after a hard day at work can really lift your mood. Many people think of their dogs as their best friends and a vital part of their life-and many people who do not own a dog or for whatever reason cannot be with their dogs feel the same way.
This may include people who are in hospital, long-term hospice care or who have psychiatric issues, as well as people of all ages with conditions such as autism, who often find communicating with a dog much easier than communicating with other people.
Therapy dogs can be taken into such environments where regular dogs are not allowed to go, and let people meet, pet and spend time with them, providing a much-needed mental lift and spreading a lot of happiness as they go! This can make hospitalisation or medical treatment much more bearable for many, and give them something to look forwards too.
Are therapy dogs and assistance dogs the same thing?
Many people think that therapy dogs and assistance dogs are essentially the same thing, but this is not true. Therapy dogs are essentially simply very good, very kind and loving dogs, while assistance dogs are trained to help to protect people’s independence and keep them safe, which requires a huge range of skills and lots of training.
Also, while therapy dogs are permitted into some places that are usually off limits to dogs at certain times and in certain settings, the rest of the time, a therapy dog is simply a pet, and they cannot accompany you to places where genuine assistance dogs are permitted to go.
What are the core traits of a good therapy dog?
There are a huge range of different traits that a good therapy dog possesses, and any breed of dog may potentially have what it takes-there are no restrictions on things like age and size, assuming that the dog is adult, fit and suited for the role.
The first and most important element of a good therapy dog is safety and temperament-therapy dogs must be completely safe around people from all walks of life and of all ages, in all sorts of different situations.
This means that a dog that is great with adults but not kids will not be a good fit, and a dog that has shown any form of aggression even under provocation, including defensive aggression, will not be able to continue.
Therapy dogs must be highly social with both people and other dogs, and should also be generally calm, open and not phased by new situations.
They should also be enthusiastic about meeting new people, kind, loving and friendly, while also able to moderate their behaviour instinctively to avoid inadvertently hurting someone who may be ill or not fully mobile.
They must also be well trained, highly obedient and able to keep their heads and respond to commands when a lot of stimulus is competing for their attention!
How to get started
The foundations of a good therapy dog are good training in the basics, a high level of obedience, excellent social skills, an outgoing and friendly nature, and absolutely zero signs of aggression.
To begin with, ensuring that your dog ticks all of these boxes is a good start, and continually introducing your dog to new people and new stimulus will all help.
Ensure that your dog follows their commands and can sit, stay, walk nicely on the lead and come when called, and monitor them carefully for potential problems.
From this point, you might want to contact an organisation (there are several across the UK) that hold training courses and certifications for assistance dogs, and that may be able to put you in touch with people or organisations that would love a visit from your dog!
Before you do actually go out on a visit, you must also ensure that your dog is covered by the appropriate insurance policy-this may be provided by the organisation, or you may have to attain it privately.
If your dog is already insured, you may need to let your insurer know if you intend to use them as a therapy dog too, as this may change your policy.
Dog parks are designated enclosed areas where dogs can be permitted to run safely off the lead and socialise with other dogs, and these are hugely popular in cities where green spaces for safe dog walking are few and far between.
Even in suburban and rural areas there tend to be set areas where dog walking is permitted on private or council-owned land, and that soon become popular spots to allow dogs to meet and play with each other and stretch their legs.
Not only is meeting other dogs out and about on walks virtually unavoidable, but it is also desirable-socialisation with other dogs on an ongoing basis is vitally important for all dogs, regardless of their breed or age, and dog parks or similar green spaces are a great place to enable this. However, as is the case within any social situation involving either dogs, people or both, there are several unspoken “rules,” as it were, regarding courtesy and etiquette in the dog park, and that is what we will look at within this article.
Don’t take a sick dog to the dog parkIt should go without saying, but if your dog is ill, under the weather or appears to be coming down with something, you should try to keep them away from other dogs as much as possible. This is both to ensure that your dog does not pass on any communicable condition they may have, and also because a dog that is not feeling 100% will be less tolerant with others, and this can lead to problems.
Always take a leadEven if your dog is totally reliable off the lead and you only use the dog park for off the lead play, always take a lead with you. Another dog owner may ask you to restrain your dog-and it is important that you always do this first (even if you are not sure why) and ask questions later, and you may need it in other situations too, such as if you need to split up two dogs fighting, or get your dog out of a tense situation.
Keep bitches in heat away
You should never take a bitch in heat, or that you think is about to come into heat, to a dog park-this can cause endless problems for both yourself and other dog owners. Unneutered male dogs will essentially lose their minds and quite possibly fight each other around your bitch, and of course, she may potentially get pregnant too.
Always pick up your dog’s poop
Dog parks are not a free for all, and picking up after your dog is even more important in a dog park than it is in most other places, in order to protect the people and dogs that use it.
The fastest way to become the dog park pariah is to neglect to pick up after your dog, even if this is only because you didn’t notice it!
Take treats, but not food or a snack
Taking treats will always make you popular in the dog park, but treats and food (canine or human) can cause problems with a group of dogs, and some dogs may not be allowed to have treats and so, will feel left out. Keep treats out of sight when lots of dogs are around, and never offer a treat to someone else’s dog without asking their owner first.
Be prepared to share toys-or leave them at home
Toys and balls are always popular in the dog park, but your dog must be happy to share with others- if they are not, leave the toys at home.
Other dogs will expect to play with your own dog’s toys too, so only take toys that you would not be too sad about losing.
Keep your dog in sight at all times
Never lose sight of your dog, even for a few minutes at a time-a lot can happen when your dog is excitable and having fun with others, and it is important to keep them in sight to ensure that they are not causing problems, or getting into it!
Respect requests from other owners
Communication with other owners is important, and you should always respect requests made by others regarding their own dogs, or your dog’s interaction with them-such as keeping away if asked, calming your dog down, or any other reasonable request.
Some people use the dog park to work on their dog’s training and other skills, so if you can see someone is working with their dog, don’t let your dog go bowling in to disrupt them!
Tread carefully with unneutered male dogs
Unneutered male dogs that are well socialised usually get on well with others-but be prepared to keep a close eye on your dog, as they may not get on with another unneutered male, and may tend to be dominant with other dogs. Also, if there is a bitch in heat within scenting range, flashpoints and problems can soon arise so stay alert.
Keep your dog under control
Finally, it is your responsibility to keep your dog under control and safe at all times-the dog park is not the place to take a dog that has a problem with others, or that you are working through issues with unless you are confident that you can keep your dog under control, and that the dog park is an appropriate environment to use.
While many families that own dogs simply love the company, affection and sheer joy that comes from having a family pet, as well as the benefits that dog ownership can provide for children, other families may well be involved in showing, canine sport, or other forms of competition.
If this sound like you or you are interested in getting involved in any of these things, the chances are that your kids may well show an interest too, and it is a great idea to encourage this and enable it where possible! Children often form very strong bonds with the family dog, and as they get older they may be keen to help with their care and management, as well as getting involved in other activities that your dog may take part in.
It is wise to start teaching your child about how to interact with your dog, what their care involves and how to train and manage them from as early as they show and interest and are able to get involved. The sky really is the limit when it comes to how involved your child can get, and how far they and your dog can potentially go.
For kids that may want a career with dogs or that simply love everything to do with our canine companions, there are a huge number of ways that they can get involved with dog sport, showing and other things, at any age or level. From simply taking your child along to training classes with your dog to signing them up for special skills classes and events aimed at young trainers, there are plenty of options. In this article, we will look at some of the ways in which you can get your child of any age involved in things like dog showing, handling, sport and competition. Read on to learn more.
If you take your dog to training classes or are a competent trainer that works with your own dog on an ongoing basis, it really is never too young to involve your child. Obviously, the older your child is, the better their attention span will be, the more they will be able to understand and the more skills they will develop; it is important that you assess this carefully and do not push your child if they are getting bored, or have had enough!
In most areas of the country too you can sign children from the age of around 7 upwards up to training and dog handling classes that are specifically designed for young people. For those who show a real aptitude and skill in this area, The Kennel Club runs a “Young Kennel Club” for children, as well as classes at most larger Kennel Club shows for young trainers and handlers to show what they can do.
Breed class showing
If you own a show-quality dog of a certain breed, are a breeder yourself or want to dip your toe in the water with your pedigree dog and see how they measure up, there are also Kennel Club breed classes designed for young handlers. Taking your children with you to watch dog shows or to help you if you are competing is a great way to assess their level of interest and flair for this area-but this is often a better pick for older children, as showing generally involves a lot of time waiting around, and younger children may easily get bored.
Canine sport is great for both the dogs involved in their handlers, and all sports such as agility, flyball and heel work are generally very entertaining to watch as well as great fun to get involved in! This is often very appealing to children of all ages who pick up on the excitement and buzz of the atmosphere itself, and will often be itching to have a go, regardless of your dog’s own level of commitment!
Allowing your dog and child to join a local team or club for a certain canine sport can make for a great hobby, keep your child and dog alike fit and entertained, and allow them both to burn off steam! Again, The Kennel Club runs special classes and events for junior trainers and handlers involved in dog sport, and joining a club or organisation that allows them to meet and interact with other young trainers can help to raise and maintain their interest.
Few of us go through all of our adult lives in the same home that we started it in, and for numerous reasons such as needing more room, relocating with work or the end of a tenancy, most of us have to face the reality that at some point, we will need to move house!
Finding and buying (or agreeing a tenancy) on a new home can be stressful and hard work, not to mention the actual process of moving itself-and naturally, everyone has their own ideas of what they are looking for in their perfect home at different life stages.
However, if you have a dog, you should take this into account when it comes to finding the perfect property, and doing this can help to ensure that you make the right choice, and your dog settles in as well as you and your family do.
In this article, we will look at some of the things that you should think about when it comes to choosing a new home with your dog in mind, and how to avoid any potential problems.
Red tape and rules
First of all, whether you are renting or buying, before you get your heart set on a particular property you should first make sure that you are able to keep pets there. Some landlords will not accept pets, and even some purchased properties may have regulations on the keeping of animals, particularly if the property is leasehold, part of a managed development, or is an apartment with the public areas run by a management company.
This is something you should ascertain and clarify before you even arrange to go and see a property, to avoid wasting time and effort.
The house itselfWhen you go to view a house or apartment for the first time, it is important to view it through the eyes of a dog owner, and assess its suitability as a future home for your pet.
Think about things like the size of the rooms, hallways and doorways, as a large dog should be able to move around in their own home comfortably. Also think about things like where you would feed the dog, where they would sleep, which door you would take them in and out through, and if you could close your dog off or separate the house into two parts if you needed to.
It can also be helpful to look for a home that has a utility room or wet room that you can use for cleaning your dog (and yourself) up in after walks, and to store muddy boots and coats!
The garden or yard
Assessing your outside space is important too, and it can be challenging to keep a dog in a home with no garden or yard.
Look for a garden or yard with enough space for your dog, easy access from the house, and views from windows that would allow you to see what your dog is doing. Also, look at the suitability and condition of the fencing, and whether this would be sufficient to house your dog, or if you would have to make changes-and of course, find out the cost.
Also, look out for any potential hazards in the garden, such as ponds or toxic plants-these may not be a deal breaker, but you should also think about how you would be able to resolve the issue before your dog uses the garden or yard.
Check out online listings and talk to other dog owners to find out how well served the neighbourhood is in terms of services and facilities for dog owners. Check out Google maps or a similar service, and look for local vets, groomers, pet sitting or dog walking services, and anything else that you need.
Additionally, if you are involved in canine sport (or want to be), find out about any clubs or groups nearby and factor this in if it is important to you.
Walks and green spaces
Check out the general area around the house, and see how well served it is with suitable routes to walk your dog safely, and green spaces where your dog can run off the lead. Think about local dog parks, enclosed fields and footpaths, and consider how well you would be able to meet your dog’s needs in this respect.
Finally, it is a good idea before making a final decision to go and say hi to your potential new neighbours, let them know about your dog, and find out if they have any pets or concerns.
The first year of a dog’s life is the most important stage in their development, and during this initial year they will be growing and maturing both physically and mentally, and learning from the world around them all of the time.
This means that the initial year is both really important and highly-loaded in terms of getting things right-failing to teach your pup the basics while they are young, or going about things the wrong way can have implications that will continue to affect both you and your pup potentially for the rest of their life. It is much easier to train and correct a puppy than it is to have to re-train or undo problems in adult dogs later on, and this is not simply because puppies are of course physically smaller and easier to physically manipulate!
This is just as true when it comes to learning the core essential skills all dogs should have-such as walking on the lead-as it is for other issues such as managing the potential onset of bad or undesirable behaviours, or tackling problems.
How you approach teaching your pup to walk on the lead, how you build and develop your pup’s skills and how you tackle any problems that arise all contribute to forming and shaping the on-leash behaviour of your adult dog, which means that approaching leash training the right way is really important.
In this article, we will share some basic tips and advice on how to train your puppy to walking on the leash, and how to head off any potential problems in order to ensure that your future adult dog will remain a pleasure to walk. Read on to learn more.
Leash means collar or harnessFirst things first, in order to be able to walk your dog on the lead, the lead needs to be attached to something! This means that a collar or harness is the first step of leash training, before you even introduce your pup to the leash.
It is wise to get your pup used to wearing both a collar and a harness either simultaneously or alternately, as this will provide you with more options. A collar is necessary for all dogs in order to display an Id tag, even if you do not use the collar to attach the least-and a harness is ultimately the best tool to use with a leash, even for dogs that walk nicely and do not pull.
Get your pup used to wearing a collar as soon as possible, and of course, make sure it fits well and is comfortable, and does not restrict, rub or irritate your dog’s neck. Check the fit of the collar every week, to ensure that it is not getting too small.
The first time that your pup sees and wears a harness should not be the day that you attach a lead to it. Get your puppy used to putting on their harness and spending some time in it, as it can take time to get your pup used to the feeling and comfortable with it, and this should be achieved before you attach the leash.
Add the leashWhen you are ready to introduce your pup to the leash itself, it is important to let them get a look at it, sniff it and explore it, but without starting to chew at it or view it as a toy. Don’t let your pup tug the lead with their mouth or otherwise treat the lead like one of their tug toys! It is entirely possible that your pup may try to do this when you attach it, but in general terms, let them get this type of experimentation out of their systems with gentle correction and positive reinforcement before you begin using the leash on them.
PositioningBoth dogs and people tend to get into a set pattern in terms of which side of you the dog walks on, and being walked by someone who prefers the other side can be challenging for both dog and person! Generally, keeping your dog on your left is the most common approach, and your dog should walk alongside of your heels, keeping pace with you without pulling ahead or lagging behind.
Get your pup used to this, matching your stride to theirs initially until they begin to become conditioned to the appropriate position, and will naturally match their pace to yours in the future.
Tackling pullingPulling on the lead is one of the most common problems that owners of adult dogs face, and this behaviour usually becomes firmly established while the pup is still very young, creating the beginnings of an irritating issue that may remain with the pup for life.
Pulling on the leash is both an annoyance and bad manners, and yet few dog owners have the know-how or patience to go about resolving it properly. However, getting this right early on makes the issue much easier to correct, and avoid storing up problems later on down the line.
The classic mistake made by owners of pulling dogs is to pull them back, even to the point of yanking on the leash in frustration. This is ultimately the worst approach to take-the dog will either view it as a game or simply not understand why they are being chastised, and pulling back can potentially damage the pup’s neck muscles, or even strengthen them to worsen the pulling in future.
The only time that you should “pull” a dog-and this should be a gentle check rather than actually pulling-is if the dog gets more than a step or so behind you, as a gentle reminder to pick it up and stop sniffing the flowers! However, this should be a cue to your dog, rather than a physical action.
So, if your pup is pulling ahead, how should you handle this? The simple answer (but one that is harder to execute reliably in practice!) is to stop, and keep a firm but slack hold on the lead until your dog returns to you or loosens their pull. Then, resume walking when your dog stops resisting, but stop once again as soon as they pull.
This might sound really simple, but the sheer level of persistence involved in getting it right can be frustrating, and many owners struggle with patience when getting annoyed and wound up with the dog, and pulling them back seems like the most convenient option.
However, persevering and checking your dog while they are a pup and first learning will virtually eliminate the problem in the dog when they are older-or if not, make going back to this basic approach more of a refresher that will prove effective quickly.
Although it can be time consuming and yes, frustrating to tackle pulling in this way, you will be glad you did it in the long run, so persevere!