I have been involved in animal assisted therapy for about fifteen years as a volunteer, as an evaluator, and as an instructor. In some ways, it is actually what I imagined it would be like, but in other ways it is totally different. For example, when I first started volunteering with my dog at hospitals I hadn’t really thought about how much I would have to talk. That might sound silly, but I just hadn’t gone through different visiting scenarios in my head. I imagined that I would bring my dog to the hospital, we would work with the patient and the conversation would flow easily – we’d talk about my dogs and all the dogs we have known. In reality, that doesn’t generally happen. In fact, I have visited a lot of non-dog people who just want a visitor, and they accept that the visitor will be accompanied by a dog.
While there is no black and white answer to that question there are obviously some dogs that are likely candidates – if Fido is like Jimmy Fallon in a dog suit (confident yet polite), than it’s a good possibility that he has the right temperament for therapy work. If he’s more like Howard Stern, rethink it.
However, the other question I like to ask is whether they, the humans, think they would like doing this work. It is helpful to keep reminding people that therapy dog work is a team effort and that sometimes the dog does the bulk of the work, but other times the human is doing all the heavy lifting.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but it is a reminder that there are two sides to a therapy dog team.
If you are interested in learning more about what it means to be part of a therapy dog team, join Paulette for her Therapy Dog Prep course at Glenview Animal Hospital, starting on May 5.