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Therapy dog training must begin long before a handler brings his or her dog to be evaluated for certification. The process isn’t always easy and it isn’t for everyone – or every dog.
There are a number of suggestions and requirements that should be considered before serious training work begins. Both handler and canine should start these preparations early in order to determine if work as a therapy dog is the right goal to pursue.
A good therapy dog gets its roots from a well-informed and observant owner. Before any training begins a handler must know exactly what to expect from the veterinarians and evaluators that will ultimately award or deny certifications. He/she should have a strong understanding of the testing requirements for each level of certification because this will determine the types of training that must be used to meet them.
Other preparations include acquiring an appropriate insurance policy and understand what the risks of therapy work are and how to mitigate them. Becoming a member of groups associated with canine training, therapy or rescue work can help to create a support community where education and valuable resources can be obtained. Some groups are able to directly certify dogs and in a number of cases may also be able to organize therapy visits for you and your dog.
When it comes to your dog, getting ready for therapy work is primarily about exposure training. Therapy K9s must be bombproof. They must not startle easy at sudden movements or loud, unexpected noises. They must be patient and calm and willing to obey and hold commands even in uncomfortable situations. In order to be ready for this work, you must expose your dog to everything you can think of that it may encounter while working in the field. This includes:
*Direct approaches/eye contact
*Medical apparatus and other machinery
*Uncomfortable or strange flooring – grates, ramps, cold tile, etc
Once you’ve properly socialized and exposed your dog to these situations with favorable reactions, the next step for many people is to obtain a Canine Good Citizenship certification. In fact, many certifying therapy dog groups require it. This first stage of testing will determine if your dog possesses the basic behaviors, obedience and intelligence necessary to become a good therapy canine. For anyone wishing to become a certified handler/therapy dog team, a CGC certification is a significant initial training achievement.
In Summary – Once your dog is certified by passing the Canine Good Citizenship test, you can then proceed with full therapy dog training specific to the therapy certification level you’ll be seeking.
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