How to Get a Pet Therapy Certification

by Karen Curley
A therapy pet must be friendly and calm in a variety of situations.

A therapy pet must be friendly and calm in a variety of situations.

The woman and dog image by Cosmic from Fotolia.com

The four national organizations that offer therapy pet evaluations are Therapy Dogs Inc., Delta Society Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs International Inc. and the Foundation for Pet-Provided Therapy. While the evaluations differ, they share a common basis. All of them test the pet’s behavior around people and other animals in a variety of circumstances. To have some consistency in testing, all four organizations have incorporated the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizenship Certification test into their evaluations. Some have added more exercises, and each has its own ratings for acceptable responses to the exercises, according to the University of Minnesota's Center to Study Human-Animal Relationships and Environments. The CGC tests basic manners and socialization a pet dog should have, and it includes some basic obedience. Other species used for therapy, such as cats, rabbits, horses and birds, do not have the obedience requirement, but must demonstrate the handler’s ability to communicate with and control them at all times. If you want your dog certified for therapy work, first prepare him for the Canine Good Citizen Certification test.

Basic Obedience

Step 1

Teach your dog the three basic obedience commands: sit, down and stay. Use positive reinforcement with praise and treat rewards, so your dog keeps a friendly, sociable attitude, also a therapy dog requirement. You should limit your training sessions to about 10 minutes a few times each day to keep your dog motivated.

Step 2

Train your dog to walk on leash with you without pulling, also known as heeling. As you begin training this exercise, your dog’s initial reaction may be to pull you along. If he pulls, stop walking and wait until the leash is slack again, then begin walking again. Your goal is a dog who walks at your side on a slack leash. The therapy test requires your dog to keep his position at your side while you turn left, turn right and stop.

Step 3

Train your dog to walk next to you on a loose leash in a crowd. The therapy evaluator will have you and your dog walk past three people. Your dog should not jump on them or pull toward them. The more you practice walking your dog through crowded places, the more comfortable the dog will feel walking past strangers.

Step 4

Teach your dog to come to you without hesitation or delay whenever you call her. Reward her for returning to you until she responds promptly every time you call her. The therapy dog evaluation requires you to walk 10 feet away from your dog and call her. You can call your dog by her name or use a recall cue.

Step 5

Start teaching distance training using a 20-foot lead. Clip the lead to your dog’s collar, reinforce the basic commands of sit, down and stay, gradually moving further away from your dog. Begin practicing distance in an area with no distractions. Once he can sit, down and stay while you are 20 feet away without distractions, bring your dog to a place where a few people are around, and repeat the process. The therapy test requires your dog to remain down and in place while you walk to the end of the 20-foot lead, turn, and walk back to your dog.

Step 6

Brush and comb your dog regularly to thoroughly accustom him to being touched. If your dog becomes agitated when you touch some parts of his body, gently brush these areas until he is comfortable with the grooming. During the therapy evaluation, the evaluator will brush and comb your dog and evaluate his physical appearance. Your dog must be well-groomed and healthy.

Socialization

Step 1

Arrange for different people to walk up to you and shake your hand while your dog remains beside you. Try to do this with people your dog does not know, because sometimes dogs react differently to strangers. Continue practicing shaking hands with people until your dog sits quietly and accepts anyone who talks to you. The therapy test requires your dog to remain quietly by your side while you shake hands with a stranger. This training requires that you've already taught your dog basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, down and heel.

Step 2

Go to dog parks or dog play groups where you can expose your dog to other dogs and their handlers until yours is comfortable in these situations. Therapy dogs must be able to approach other dogs and their handlers without becoming agitated. The test requires you and your dog to approach another handler and dog from 15 feet away. Your dog must remain calm and neutral while you shake hands with the other dog's owner.

Step 3

Take your dog to the park or playground. Ask people you meet to pet your dog on the head and body. While the person is petting your dog, work on keeping your dog beside you and remaining calm. Your dog should not show any hand-shyness or aggression during this test. The therapy test requires your dog to sit or stand quietly while a stranger pets him.

Step 4

Have a friend hold your dog’s leash while you leave the room. Then return and praise her. Continue doing this with many different people until your dog is comfortable about being left with a stranger. The therapy test requires you to leave the room for three minutes while the evaluator holds your dog on leash. Your dog does not have to sit, but she should not bark, howl or become agitated.

Step 5

Expose your dog to loud noises such as vacuum cleaners, car horns and slamming doors until he does not show any fear of noises. Walk your dog near moving visual distractions like bicycles, people in wheelchairs or people walking with crutches and canes. The therapy evaluator will test your dog's reaction to both noise distractions and visual distractions.

Items You Will Need

  • Clip collar
  • 6-foot leash
  • Grooming brush
  • Grooming comb
  • 20-foot lead

Tips

  • Contact one of the national therapy organizations and ask about evaluation test dates and locations in your area.
  • Your dog has to be at least 1 year old, friendly, and good with children, men and women to qualify as therapy pets, according to Therapy Dogs Inc.

Warning

  • You may not use pinch collars or choke collars on your dog during the testing. Growling or snapping disqualifies your dog.

Photo Credits

About the Author

Karen Curley has more than 18 years experience in health and nutrition, specializing in healthy food choices for families. She received USDA certification in food components, nutrient sources, food groups and infant/child nutrition, and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts. Curley is also an avid gardener, home renovator, Collie breeder, dog groomer and dog trainer.