Before you are registered
BECOMING A THERAPY TEAM
When you first decide to do therapy work, you probably will want to start right away. A word of advice: a little preparation will be well worth your while. The dog is only half the team, so don’t plan only for where you think Rover would work best. Your advance planning should focus first on you, and then on your dog.
Evaluating Your Own Strengths
Most people have particular strengths: working with children, perhaps, or entertaining assisted-living residents. Some handlers have trouble dealing with certain kinds of patients (very ill children; nursing home residents with Alzheimers; oncology patients; amputees; etc.). No one is equally good in every situation. You should spend some time assessing your own strong and weak points in order to determine where you can be most useful.
You must be able to interact effectively with those you are visiting. This means that you will be working at least as hard as your dog. In some facilities, the professional staff will provide very specific guidance; in others, such as many nursing homes, you will be practically on your own. We recommend that you visit a facility (without your dog) to observe an experienced team working under the conditions of that particular facility. If this is not possible, then try to schedule at least one visit without the dog to walk around and get the picture.
It takes a while to learn how to encourage interaction appropriately; for instance, not every patient wants to interact with dogs. Some patients become very emotional when they recall the dogs of their childhood, or the dogs they will never be able to “play with” again. It’s important to review possible scenarios like these before you encounter them! Again, observing more experienced handlers is very helpful; so is role-playing at home.
Evaluating Your Dog’s Strengths
Just like handlers, dogs have strong points and less strong ones. Some dogs love children and will tolerate being climbed on, thumped on the head, etc. (Of course, most of these are large dogs – such as retrievers and the big working dogs.) Others love to snuggle in someone’s lap. Still others are entertainers at heart. Therapy work is stressful for the majority of dogs, even though they enjoy it; don’t add to the stress level by choosing the wrong venue for your dog.
The level of training your dog has achieved will make less difference than you might imagine. As long as Fluffy behaves well—does not jump on people, does not interact inappropriately with other dogs, etc. – you should be all right. The therapy dog evaluator will help you determine whether you might benefit from further training.
Once you have some idea of what works best for you and what would probably work best for your dog you should start on the path to becoming registered.