A Therapy Animal (Therapy Dog) refers to a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as disaster areas. Therapy Dogs provide animal contact to numerous individuals who may, or may not, have disabilities. A Therapy Animal works in animal assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy. It is usually the personal pet of its handler, and typically works with its handler in attendance during sessions.

Visiting animal-handler teams are the most common source of therapy animals/therapy dogs. The handlers of these visiting teams may be volunteers or health care professionals on the staff of the facility they visit.

We all recognize that our Beardies give us so much affection, comfort, and support. Some Beardies are even effective at doing that for others, thus being great at volunteering for pet therapy visits.

Many of you have heard about pet therapy and how dogs trained to do this work can have amazing results. Maybe this approach to helping others appeals to you, yet you wonder if you and your Beardie would be able to do this kind of work? So here are some criteria that you can use in assessing suitability for pet therapy work:

  • A first criterion is good manners, and I mean very good manners! Your enthusiastic, bouncing out-of-control Beardie in a room of fragile geriatrics does not make for a good situation. That being said, the best measure for evaluating your Beardie’s manners is the AKC’s CGC (Canine Good Citizen). This test is not necessary for registration with several of the national pet therapy organizations, but it provides a baseline for how your Beardie behaves in public and should do in pet therapy. Visit this link for an idea of what is expected of you and your dog for the CGC.

  • So, if you feel your Beardie can pass this test... how does your Beardie really feel about meeting strangers, and possibly other dogs, in an environment with strange smells, unusual noises and unfamiliar distractions? A hospital is a great example. If your Beardie is solid with people and tolerant of the unexpected, then you might have a budding therapist at your side!

  • Next step, in order to participate in pet therapy work, is to find a local group that will test and qualify you and your Beardie. There are several major testing organizations plus many small local ones. These groups will typically offer training as well as testing and access to therapy sites. Most important is that you are connected with an organization that offers a liability policy. In this litigious world, you do not want your Beardie to be in therapy settings without insurance!
  • Want to find a local group that also offers testing, insurance coverage and visits? Ask your vet, local pet stores, dog clubs or call health facilities in your area. Someone will know. Once you and your Beardie have passed the test and are registered, you can do visits with others or solo. The kind of visits are endless: reading-to-the-dog programs, juvenile delinquent facilities, prisons, nursing homes, hospitals, hospice… anywhere where there are people needing some Beardie love!

Here are three of the organizations that do testing in Colorado. Each group has their own policies and testing criteria on their web sites. Better yet, find a person near you doing this special work and ask about their affiliation. Each organization is different, so find one that works for you and your Beardie.

If you have any questions or concerns, contact Norm Lazarus, We would love to see more Beardies in the Colorado area doing pet therapy!