Four Legged Therapists

What does it take to be a therapy dog?

Animal therapy is becoming widely accepted and more prevalent in today’s society.  These four-legged angels come in all sizes, shapes, pure bred or mixed and can be seen at health and day care facilities, university and college campuses, local schools and libraries.  Distinguishing what task a dog is performing can be difficult and not as obvious as a Guide dog in harness.

As many of our dogs come from unknown backgrounds, we do not adopt dogs for the specific purpose of performing as a Service Dog or Emotional Support Dog.  A dog adopted through GRRMF is to be your pet. We do not perform temperament testing to determine the likelihood of therapy work behaviors for any dog in our program. When you adopt, you must ensure time is provided for your dog to settle in and adjust to their new environment and people. Only then will you understand their needs and comfort level to determine if THEY may have an interest in moving forward into therapy work.   A dog’s interest is dependent on many factors but perhaps the most important is the relationship between the dog and the handler.  If you determine your dog wants to move forward, complete your CGC certification to gain that mutual confidence of working as a team. When you and your dog are ready, we look forward to hearing from you to join our Hearts of Gold therapy team servicing many of our communities in mid-Florida. 

  • Service Dogs are individually trained and work as a team with their disabled partner to help them attain the safety and independence from which their disabilities would otherwise limit them.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs in public places, like businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, etc.  Service dog teams should be respected as a working team and not be distracted by the public.  Never try to interact with a service dog “on-duty” as you put the owner at risk.  In many states it is a criminal offense to permit your dog to interfere with a working team.
  • Emotional Support Animals primary roles are to provide their disabled owners with emotional comfort and are not required to undergo specialized training.  The seemingly basic gift of companionship and unconditional affection can be just the right therapy to counter a condition like debilitating depression.  The ADA does not grant owners of emotional support animals the right to be accompanied by these animals in establishments that do not permit pets; however, the DOJ/HUD’s Fair Housing Act does allow for disabled owners of emotional support animals to reside in housing that has a “No Pets” policy.
  • Therapy Dogs have a completely different type of job and must go through CGC training to be certified. Their responsibilities are to provide emotional or physical presence therapy to individuals other than their owners.  These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Therapy dogs visit hospitals, nursing homes and hospices to provide emotional therapy, schools and libraries to give learning disabled children the confidence to read out loud day, and group homes and rehabilitation centers to actively participate in physical therapy.

What type of personality do you think a therapy dog needs to be successful?  Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. shares wonderful insight on her website…Therapy Dogs-Born or Made? 

Not all dogs are born with the exceptional temperament required to be a certified therapy dog.  It can be hard work and the dog needs to be both good at it and enjoy it. A good therapy dog prospect should adore people and want nothing more than to connect with them, possess a physical calm (no barking, pawing or leaping), be non-reactive to loud noises, and non-aggressive to other dogs and pets.  Finding the type of therapy work that fits your dog’s personality is important as they need to be comfortable and relaxed while performing the task so they can connect with those they are interacting with appropriately.  Some canines are very comfortable with children while others love the elderly, some are social greeters who readily look for petting while others calmly enjoy listening to a story.  Before you consider having your dog evaluated, you should ask yourself if your dog has the qualities required to perform as a therapy dog.

Therapy Dogs International (TDI) and Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ADT) formerly known as Therapy Dogs Incorporated (TDInc) are two nationally recognized handler/dog therapy certifying organizations that provide liability insurance for their registered members. Coverage only applies when the handler/dog team is performing a therapeutic visitation and following their guidelines and requirements. You will be required to submit an annual veterinary health certificate and proof of current required vaccinations for your dog and perform a minimum of one visit every three months at a facility. Both organizations have standard testing requirements and certified testers/observers located throughout Florida, many of which are members of umbrella organizations such as Project PUP on the west coast in Hillsborough County, Be an Angel Therapy Dogs Ministry centrally located in Orange County and Space Coast Therapy Dogs on the east coast in Brevard County. There are also smaller organizations that only require their members to be Canine Good Citizens (CGC) certified, such as Caring Canines Therapy Dogs in Lake County. Joining an umbrella organization has its advantages. They have already contacted numerous facilities and have pre-scheduled commitments for monthly visits. Plus you and your fur companion are surrounded by people who share the same passion – spreading joy and comfort to those less fortunate. As a member in good standing, you can review the calendar, chose what fits into your schedule and confirm with the coordinator responsible that you will be in attendance as a handler/dog therapy team. TDI and ADT require a minimum of one visit every three months for yearly recertification and have a standardized form that needs to be submitted with your renewal.

The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior and is a prerequisite for many therapy dog groups. The 10 step CGC test observes your ability to handle your dog in a safe and effective manner and tests your dog for basic obedience skills and appropriate personality traits.  This is also a handy certificate for homeowners and renters to have in their possession for future submission to insurance companies, as many are implementing an exclusion clause in coverage for certain breeds and size/weight restrictions.

The CGC 10 step test covers the following –
1. Accepting a Friendly Stranger – The dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation.
2. Sitting Politely for Petting – The dog will allow a friendly stranger to pet it while it is out with its handler.
3. Appearance and Grooming – The dog will permit someone to check its ears and front feet, as a groomer or veterinarian would do.
4. Out for a Walk (walking on a loose lead) – Following the evaluator’s instructions for turns and stopping, the dog will walk on a loose lead (with the handler/owner).
5. Walking Through a Crowd – demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three).
6. Sit and Down on Command and Staying in Place – The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay.
7. Coming When Called – demonstrates that the dog will come when called by the handler (from 10 feet on a leash).
8. Reaction to Another Dog – demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, then move on.
9. Reaction to Distraction – The evaluator will present distractions such as loud noises, joggers, children playing, wheelchair and/or crutches, etc.
10. Supervised Separation – demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person and will maintain training and good manners. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes and the dog should not bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily.
The complete explanation of each CGC requirement step can be found at on the AKC website.


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