Basic Requirements of Therapy Dogs and Handlers

Mary Pat Higley is a medical consultant and data analyst based in Newport Beach, California. Away from her professional life, Mary Pat Higley enjoys a number of personal interests, including therapy dog training.

Official therapy dog certification testing, as administered by Therapy Dogs International (TDI), involves a comprehensive evaluation of both the handler and dog, as well as a careful analysis of how the person and animal operate as a team. However, there are several basic requirements a dog must meet prior to engaging in TDI therapy dog testing. First, a dog must be at least one year old and in good health to qualify for therapy dog consideration. Handlers, meanwhile, must meet TDI standards of strong character. While handlers are not subject to any age restrictions, individuals under the age of 18 must have the support of a parent or adult guardian.

Dog owners also should be aware that TDI instructors initiate the evaluation process from the moment they meet the handler and dog. In other words, any relevant behavior demonstrated prior to or following official testing can be taken into consideration in regards to certification. Furthermore, any handler intent on registering multiple dogs must test their dogs together so the animals can be evaluated as a team.

Requirements for Training a Therapy Dog

A medical and data analysis consultant by profession, Mary Pat Higley enjoys training therapy dogs in her free time. Mary Pat Higley also regularly takes therapy dogs on visits to local hospitals, nursing homes, and other care centers.

Therapy dogs can provide welcome companionship to a wide variety of populations, ranging from schoolchildren who have experienced a trauma to seriously ill patients in hospitals. Unlike seeing-eye dogs and other service animals, these dogs often begin their therapeutic “careers” as everyday household pets with no previous training. They do, however, need to have a gentle and friendly temperament.

Experts suggest that a good therapy dog is one that is calm around strangers and gets along well with other dogs. The dog should also be responsive to commands and able to move through a crowd without distraction, stay relaxed in a chaotic environment, and behave well in different surroundings. Similarly, to be a volunteer handler, an owner should be friendly with and comfortable around all types of people and be comfortable in hospitals, nursing homes, and other care settings.

To get your dog certified as a therapy animal, he or she first needs to train with an experienced professional. Reputable organizations provide assessment and education using positive reinforcement for the dog, and they should be able to give follow-up support after course completion and successful certification. However, the owner should also be willing to work regularly with the dog to maintain his or her skills.

How Therapy Dogs Serve the Health Care Industry

A California medical consultant, Mary Pat Higley has more than two decades of experience in the health care field. Her career interests also impact her personal life. In her spare time, Mary Pat Higley enjoys bringing therapy dogs to Alzheimer’s facilities, children’s hospitals, and nursing homes to meet patients and residents.

According to CBS News and various research studies, therapy dogs alleviate stress and aid in the recovery of sick patients. In fact, the studies indicate that people become more alert and active when a dog visits their room. As a result, levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and blood pressure drop.

Well tempered and socialized, therapy dogs serve as companions to patients who may otherwise be somewhat isolated or alone. In hospital or health care settings, the animals allow patients to pet them as they lie calmly. Hospitals also find that a therapy dog has a soothing effect in stressful environments, such as emergency rooms. Depending on the institution, a dog may be admitted into an emergency room while a patient undergoes a procedure. The animal not only helps the patient remain relaxed, but also reduces heightened pressure placed on doctors and nurses administering treatment.

Characteristics of Successful Therapy Animals

An experienced independent clinical research associate, medical consultant, and data analyst, Mary Pat Higley ensures that projects meet performance goals and follow clinical protocols. Outside of her professional career, Mary Pat Higley volunteers at a local nursing home and has trained her Shetland Sheepdog to be a therapy animal for the residents.

Although pot-bellied pigs, donkeys, rats, and other animals both large and small make good therapy animals, dogs are the most common ones. Trained to provide comfort to people with medical issues or learning difficulties, or who are experiencing any number of stressful situations, therapy animals need to be accustomed to human contact and be able to stay in place for extended periods of time, even with strangers, without misbehaving. Therapy animals can also run into various disturbances and need training to be prepared for them. Disturbances range from being startled by loud noises to seeing another animal in the health care center or another facility.

Due to the variety of situations therapy dogs encounter when they are on duty, there are a number of things that many certification programs test for to ensure that the dog will be capable of processing them and reacting calmly. For instance, Therapy Dogs International tests for the dog’s behavior during the full spectrum of the therapy experience, which may include a simulated check-in procedure, visiting with a patient, or being left alone, to see how they behave. All certification programs require the dog to be in good mental and physical health, which ensures that therapy sessions will be beneficial for both the dog and the people receiving visits.

The Three Types of Therapy Dogs

Mary Pat Higley is a self-employed medical consultant and data analyzer in Newport Beach, California, where she works on a contract basis providing analysis for medication utilization reviews. In her free time, Mary Pat Higley enjoys many hobbies, including gardening and therapy dog training.

While many may confuse them with service dogs, therapy dogs are not specially trained to independently help people with disabilities, but they can be helpful as companions to a trained professional and a source of comfort to many. Therapy dogs are essentially volunteers, traveling with their owners to spend time in settings such as schools, nursing homes, and hospitals, where their presence brings joy to many.

There are three types of therapy dogs. The therapeutic visitation dog is a household pet that goes along with his or her owner to visit people in need or people who are unable to have pets of their own for a variety of reasons. The second type is the animal-assisted therapy dog, which works alongside physical and occupational therapists as they strive to help patients recover. Finally, a facility therapy dog is usually found in a nursing home and often works alongside patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other mental illnesses.