How Our Therapy Dog Program Works
Training your dog to become a therapy dog can take several months or longer. Just learning the basic skills can take 8-12 weeks depending on your dog and their age when you start training them. But to train them to the advanced level of a therapy dog, will take time and lots of practice in a lot of different environments and situations. This process must be done slowly, especially if you are starting out with a puppy, to make sure they do not become fearful or worried in new locations and increased distractions.
Your dog needs to be mature enough and had enough training to be comfortable in new locations and situations and be able to handle new things. Therefore, we recommend your dog be older (18 months old) before they are evaluated to become a therapy team. Puppies do not have the skills or maturity to react well in new locations and are more likely to become fearful of things if they have a bad experience when in new locations.
This doesn’t mean you have to wait until your dog is older to begin training. I recommend you begin training as soon as possible with your new dog so you will have more time to learn and practice with your dog to prepare them to be a good therapy dog.
The Way my Therapy Dog Training Works
When I begin working with someone who wants to train their dog as a therapy dog, the first thing I want to do is sit down and talk with you to get all the information about you, your dog, your lifestyle, environment, family, and expectations. So we begin with a consult that can easily take 1 ½ to 2 hours.
During the consultation, we will discuss your plans for your therapy dog, your goals, where you want to take your dog, how you will use your dog, the type of facilities you will visit and people your dog will work with. I will also evaluate your dog to determine if your dog is a good candidate for therapy work.
*This may require us taking your dog into a dog friendly environment so I can see how your dog does with being around distractions. If your dog is suitable for therapy work, we will continue with the program and begin your training.
Once we have a plan of where we need to begin and go, I will begin teaching you some very important skills that will last throughout your dog’s lifetime. These skills are crucial in learning to train and work with your dog for years to come. I know a lot of trainers just jump right into the heart of things with sit, down, come, etc. But those trainers are training for pet dogs that stay home and play in the backyard with the kids and is part of the family.
As a therapy dog, your dog will do this too, but your dog is more important than that. They will be going to facilities to help other people who are sick and in the hospital, kids that have problems learning to read, or seniors that are in facilities and are possibly lonely and miss their dog they used to have. There are many different areas you and your dog may work. Therefore, they need more training, and so do you!
Where we Begin:
Training mechanics, clicker training, reinforcement procedures, what is positive reinforcement and why we use it, 3 steps to train a new behavior, how to read the body language of your dog, enrichment, exercise, normal dog development, normal behaviors for your dog based on breed(s), nutrition, basic care (5 Freedoms), how to determine if your dog is stressed, veterinary care, and what to do when your dog makes a mistake or does not do something you have asked for.
Training - Dependent upon age of dog:
Puppy: Socialization, confidence building, handling, grooming/cooperative care, crate training, potty training, self-control, focus and engagement, and relationship building.
Sit, down, come, loose leash walking, wait, leave it, touch.
Adult: Socialization, confidence building, handling, grooming/cooperative care, crate training, potty training, self-control, focus and engagement, relationship building, sit, down, come, loose leash walking, wait, leave it, touch, stay, place, self-control, focus and engagement, distraction training, manners training and training in public places.
Whether you are starting from a puppy or with an adult dog, you will be practicing all of these behaviors with your dog for months. During the training we will work with you to master the basics, and then coach you to continue the training by adding more locations, environments, situations, and distractions to increase your dog's skills to the next level. All programs are individualized for you and your dog so there is no one program that works for every dog and handler.