Thursday, August 20, 2009

Can my dog be a therapy dog?

By now, you are all familiar with the story of Leo, the former Michael Vick dog, as well as the other lovable Pit Bulls we’ve trained to do therapy work. We've gotten a lot of people asking us, just what does it take for a dog to become a therapy dog? Here are the answers to some of the most common questions:

What are the key traits you look for in a therapy dog?
We look for dogs that exhibit people-friendly traits. Therapy dogs like to be connected to humans, even humans with canes, wheelchairs or humans who limp walk funny and pet them in an awkward fashion. Their love of people overrides any natural reticence they may have toward all kinds of people in situations they may not have encountered before.

How did you know Leo was cut out for therapy work?
I knew Leo would be good for this for all of the above reasons. When I first saw Leo, I could see that he had been in a kennel for a while. He had no manners and he wanted to just bounce around and be a big untrained goofball. However, although he was a goof, he was also very people-connected and affectionate. He was just rude about it. So if your dog is from a shelter, or like Leo who lived in a kennel and is from an abusive past, your dog might still be a good candidate for therapy work. All dogs are individuals, so assessment of the dog, rather than their past, is key.

What are some of the things a dog has to do to pass the therapy certification test?
Key tests are designed to reveal whether or not your dog is happy to be touched by people, all kinds of people. Then he or she must tolerate – or be socialized to if needed – wheelchairs, canes, people walking around with equipment like IVs, elevators, stairs, slippery type floors, etc.

What kind of training should I focus on to start?
One of the most important things is to train your dog never to jump up on people. For instance, Leo goes to a can cer treatment facility, where patients have IVs inserted in their arms. Leo knows never to jump up or put his paw up on the patient's arm. Even if your dog is a jumper, this can be taught! If you'd seen our little caveman, Leo, when we first got him, you’d believe it. He hadn’t been taught any manners whatsoever! The Canine Good Citizen course and test is a good way to train your dog to learn basic manners.

Who certifies therapy dogs?
Therapy Dogs Incorporated. They have fair but tough testing. In the first part of the testing, there is an exam that's very similar to the Canine Good Citizen test. Then, your dog must be tested three different times, on different days, and two of those evaluations MUST be done in a medical facility.

So take your goofy love bug Pit Bull on the road and share his love of humans with people who could use a pick me up. For more information on how to train your Pit Bull to be a therapy dog, email us at


  1. Great article...good JOB Leo

  2. I have two therapy dogs and they do an amazing job!
    All what I can say is: Thank you OURPACK for rescured my babys, so they can help people!
    We love you guy's!!!!!!!!

    Anne, Ben & Charlotte (and Emma in spirit)