As a hobby, Mary Pat Higley trains therapy dogs to visit children’s hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities. The benefits of using therapy dogs with people who are ill, injured, depressed, or who simply love dogs, are numerous. The dogs that Mary Pat Higley and other trainers use boost the spirits of the humans they visit, and studies have indicated they can have a positive medical effect on people as well. Not just any dog can work as a therapy dog, however. The animal must have the right temperament to start with and also be carefully trained.
Therapy Dogs International (TDI) is one organization that certifies therapy dogs. For a dog to be certified by this organization, it must meet a number of requirements. An evaluator certified by TDI makes the decision. First of all, the dog must be physically healthy and needs to be at least a year old. Dogs that have a history of biting and other aggression are automatically disqualified.
The evaluation itself is divided into two parts. Essentially, it is meant to simulate a visit to a facility. It tests how the animal will react in realistic situations, such as when it is startled by objects being dropped, when strangers pet it, and when it is approached by a person on crutches or in a wheelchair. The first phase of the test takes place with the handler and the dog together; the second phase evaluates the dog away from its handler.