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Therapy Dog Tales

I have been talking to some of my canine friends who say they are therapy dogs. I did not know what they meant by that. They have been very thorough in helping me to understand and I want to share what they said with all of you.

A “therapy dog” is a dog that is specially trained to make visits to special places to help people feel better, comfort them, or help them learn to read, pay attention, and gain confidence. They also may help children and adults learn how to interact with dogs in positive ways.

In order to become a therapy dog it is necessary that the dog and its’ owner go through training classes that teach obedience, focus, patience, ignoring distractions( even bells and sirens), and remaining calm when confronted with new and strange objects such as wheelchairs and walkers. The dog must also demonstrate that it is friendly and comfortable in a variety of community settings. They must also be friendly to other dogs.

Once classes have been successfully completed, the therapy dog team is required to complete an evaluation by a trained evaluator from a nationally recognized therapy dog organization, i.e., Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Dogs with a Purpose, etc.. Upon successfully completing the evaluation, the owner submits paperwork to the therapy dog organization, pays an annual fee, and receives proof of certification as a therapy dog team. Therapy dogs and their owners are required to wear proof of certification when they are working at a therapy dog event.

a heart shaped dog tag that reads "I a a Therapy Dog"
therapy dog identification tag

Therapy dogs are being seen in an increasing number of community settings. The typical settings include schools, libraries, hospitals, and rehabilitation/nursing centers. Airports, courtrooms, people affected by disasters, and even doctors’ and dentists’ offices sometimes require the services of therapy dogs. The participants are usually volunteers at these events. Some of you in Wake County may be familiar with children reading to therapy dogs at See Spot Read Calendar Events in schools and libraries and others may have had visits from therapy dogs during Kids 4 Critters classes. Therapy dogs must be invited into these places and do not have the same community access as service dogs do.

My canine friends tell me that any breed of dog or any mixed breed dog can be become a therapy dog if it has the characteristics of being calm, friendly, and learns new things easily.

Therapy dogs can be big or little, long haired or short haired, young (over 1 year) or old. Here are some of my therapy dog friends that have worked in Wake County schools and libraries.

a collage of therapy dogs
From Left to Right: Colden, Gail & Kyra with reader, Pia/Vinnie & Mosie, and boy greeting Lee & Maggie

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