You may wonder why "health" even belongs in a consideration of therapy work. Stop and think for a minute. In order to contribute to the physical and mental health of those you visit, your team needs to be in good shape too. We'll look at several aspects: (1) the human end, (2) general health issues for dogs, and (3) health controversies and stress.
PART ONE: THE HUMAN END OF THE LEASH
Athletes need to be in peak condition, whether they are human or canine; perhaps surprisingly, therapy teams do also. This work is more tiring than people expect, and experienced handlers will often tell you that most of the dogs they have worked with have fallen asleep on the way home from a visit. Here are a few tips gleaned from many years of practice.
First, as promised in the subtitle . . . you. There's no point in having a healthy dog if the handler isn't healthy too!
The most important thing is not to visit when you have a cold or infection. It’s easy to fall into the indispensable trap (“I have to go because they need me.”) Don’t do it. Nobody needs a sick handler passing germs around. Not everything is meant to be shared!
You should also think twice about visiting if you are seriously short of sleep, under an unusual amount of stress, or depressed. In these circumstances, it is hard to spread joy. And of course alcohol or other “substances” should never be consumed before a visit.
Finally, make a special effort to be neat, clean, and well groomed. Yes, this is a health topic! Wear shoes with good traction (some registries specify what shoes can be worn), and you will be unlikely to slip and fall. Many of us who visit hospitals wear entirely washable clothes (as well as using washable leashes and collars), and so minimize the transmission of pathogens. And, of course, good hand hygiene is right at the top of the list in this regard. These precautions will reduce your health risks as well as those of the people you visit.