I have been evaluated dogs to be Therapy Dogs since 1997 – first as an evaluator for the MSPCA’s Pet Visitation Program and currently for Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc. At this point in time, I have evaluated hundreds of dogs and I can tell you – it’s all about the dog’s disposition.
Take a look at this photo of Alice of Berkshire Hills Labradoodles. She is HAPPY – you can tell that by the smile on her face – and she is totally relaxed as two children and an adult, who are complete strangers, encircle her and pet her. This is what I look for when I evaluate a prospective therapy dog.
If the dog is a bit lacking in obedience skills, I’m not concerned. These can be taught to the dog, as long as the dog possesses the requisite disposition. Assuredly, the dog must be completely under the owners control when entering a facility to visit. I often need to recommend further training before certification can be granted – but people can go forward with further training knowing that their dog has what it takes. Once trained, the team comes back for re-evaluation.
I must confess, every time I look at this photo of Alice in my iPhoto file, I laugh and smile to myself. Just looking at her photo makes me feel happy. Imagine how folks would feel having her come to visit them in a nursing home, a hospital, or a mental health unit, or working with special needs children. She would do magical things to lift their spirits.
If you have a dog with an Alice type disposition – and you, yourself, enjoy volunteering and helping people, consider becoming a certified Therapy Dog Team. Ask any of our volunteers, they’ll tell you it’s the best thing they’ve ever done!