While a dog is indisputably man's best friend, a therapy dog is everyone's best friend. Unlike a service dog whose job is to perform tasks specifically for his handler, a therapy dog provides comfort to a perfect stranger. Many dogs portray the qualities sought in a therapy dog, but some breeds perform this special calling better than others. It's important to know what to look for when adopting this comforting friend.
The Therapy Dog
Therapy dogs are welcomed in certain places with open arms. Many nursing homes allow therapy dogs to be registered as visitors for their residents. Therapy dogs also provide comfort to those facing surgery or coping with physical illnesses such as cancer, as well as mental illnesses. Therapy dogs also can calm the fears and terrors associated with facing dental procedures. Therapy dogs are often taken to disaster areas, or places where tragedies have occurred, as they provide comfort and solace, as well as a distraction to victims and survivors, and the loved ones of those lost to tragedy.
Choosing Your Friend
A therapy dog loves everyone. Your dog shouldn't fear people, although shy dogs can be trained to be excellent therapy companions. Certain breeds of dogs inherently display the qualities sought in a therapy companion. German shepherds are loyal and intelligent, and naturally hard working. The Labrador retriever is friendly to everyone. Greyhounds are loyal and obedient to their masters, and are less likely to bark in unfamiliar situations. The Rottweiler is calm and confident, and a great friend, despite a possible aloofness when meeting new people. Slightly less threatening in appearance is the beagle, whose fun personality is sure to evoke a smile from a new friend.
Adopting Your Pal
It may be possible to adopt a fully trained therapy dog, but training is often more efficient when dog and handler are trained to work together. Shelter dogs are commonly rehabilitated into affectionate and effective therapy animals. Once you determine what type of breed matches your needs, contact your local humane society or rescue group. All adopters must complete applications, and home and vet checks typically are done. Adoption fees vary, but plan for a cost that may range from minimal to several hundred dollars. Seek out a friendly dog who is energetic, but not overly anxious and hyper, as therapy dogs should provide comfort, not startle with their aggressive playfulness.
The Training Process
Once you've acclimated to your new friend, and vice versa, contact a therapy group or team in your area. A quick Internet search should set you in the right direction. Talk to the group about what you hope to achieve with your therapy dog and how you plan to serve your community. Your therapy group likely will recommend an obedience or good citizen class for your dog prior to beginning therapy training.