Most people believe that the work of a therapy dog just entails visits to a nursing home or hospital, or maybe spending time with those who need companionship or just a little fun. This is the job of many therapy dogs, but they can also provide additional services. Two different types of therapy work have been defined as animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy.
Therapy work categorized as Animal-Assisted Activities includes visits with nursing home residents or hospital patients, as well as a variety of group activities. In these group situations, interaction with the dog and discussion between group members is encouraged. A dog can provide lots of conversation and banter between group members by performing agility stunts, obedience demonstrations, or simply by being a cute, well-behaved animal.
When dogs are used as part of a formal treatment program, it is called Animal-Assisted Therapy. Dogs can be trained to help with physical, speech, or cognitive rehabilitation. Patients in physical rehabilitation can engage in games with dogs that help to improve their dexterity and mobility, while patients with brain injuries can participate in activities with dogs to help their cognitive abilities. The activity may be something as simple as playing fetch with the dog, but it may be extremely helpful for the patient.
A dog that is a good candidate for becoming a therapy dog will be well-socialized and enjoy attention. They should not be shy, fearful, easily annoyed, or aggressive. Even a dog with a perfect temperament will require some training before becoming a therapy dog. They will need to be able to sit nicely for brushing and/or petting, get along well with other dogs, and be comfortable around wheelchairs and other medical equipment.
The owner of a potential therapy dog should also meet certain requirements. They need to know how to conduct themselves with the facility staff and residents. They must also be committed to the activity on whatever schedule it's decided upon. That way, residents and patients won't be disappointed.