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— January 31, 2012 —

The Working Therapy Dog
by Polly Dake-Jones

You may have volunteered your time and services in the past – giving back in one way or another, but you may have a resource that you had not thought about before. Did you ever have a bad day at work or have a stressful encounter with someone? When you came home were you still bothered by whatever it was the turned your good day into a bad one? Then, your dog met you at the door, wagging its tail, happy that you are home. Did this greeting relieve some of the stress of your day? Did you forget about all the unpleasant events and just enjoy the moment?

What if you could share the feeling of that moment with others?

Having a “special” dog that just wants to make you feel better is a privilege that can be shared with others by turning this wonderful creature into a Therapy Dog. You don�t need to have perfect obedience skills with your dog. What you need is a well-mannered dog who loves to make people smile.

There are many ways you can volunteer with your Therapy Dog to make a difference in people’s lives. You and your Therapy Dog can visit a friend in the hospital or a relative who is rehabbing after surgery. Many residents of our local nursing homes and assisted living facilities had to leave their faithful companion with someone else when they moved. What a delight for them to see the happy face of a Therapy Dog. Some other folks might not have had a dog for quite a while, even since their childhood, and a Therapy Dog may bring back happy memories.

Therapy dogs can also be used with children. Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ dogs) and their handlers have special training in how to help children read. This interaction with a dog can have other positive results as well. The child can have their confidence boosted, and they can learn tolerance and trust. These are skills that will help them throughout their life.

If you think your dog is a good candidate for this work and you would like to be involved in these programs, you should contact one of the Therapy Dog registries such as Therapy Dogs Inc., Delta Society or Therapy Dogs International. Each registry has its own type of testing; check to see what the best fit is for our and your dog. There are local evaluators that will help you through the steps of testing. These evaluators are trained not only to evaluate your dog, but also to assist with areas where your dog may need a little help. These professionals really understand dogs and have a good idea how they will react in different situations. This is important for the main concern of safety for all involved in this work.

After you and your dog are tested and pass, you can join a Therapy Dog group and go on visits that are scheduled by the group or you can go off on your own and visit places that aren’t lucky enough to have a scheduled visit. If you go on your own, please be sure to contact the Activity Director of the facility before your first visit as some places have their own resident therapy animals.

If READ is what you are interested in, there is further training for the handler; however, you do need to be a Therapy Dog team before you can be certified as a READ team. READ is a program that was started by the Intermountain Therapy Animal group and the dogs and handlers are certified through the ITA. Training includes a manual to read and a DVD to watch followed by a written test that the handlers need to take. The test is mostly on the procedure the READ team needs to follow, but the test also touches on how to start a READ team at local schools and libraries.

Overall, dogs can elicit a positive response in so many ways and in many situations, whether it’s a child reaching out to a dog looking for interaction and acceptance or an older person reliving a happy moment from their past.

Polly Dake-Jones is a Therapy Dog Evaluator through Therapy Dogs Inc. Polly and her partner Lisa have an active Therapy Dog group in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Three years ago they started a READ dog program in the Beaver Dam School District. They also own a training facility, Canine Solutions, in Beaver Dam. Please contact them if you want more information, you can reach them at 262-490-3736 or e-mail them at canine_solutions_llc@yahoo.com

For information on local volunteer opportunities with your dog, please contact Canine Therapy Corps. Bark Avenue’s entire training staff, Daniel McElroy, Emily Stoddard and Callie Cozzolino work with Canine Therapy Corps.