The answer to this question is more complex then you might expect. People come to me all excited. They’ve read about the volunteer therapy dog program at the hospital and want to visit there with their dog. Or they want to visit hospice patients with their dog; or participate in the children’s Reading to Dogs Program at the public library. All of these, definitely, are great places to visit, but when making the decision as to where you and your dog will do your visiting, BOTH ends of the leash must be considered. Take the hospital program mentioned above… a quiet and especially well-controlled dog is needed for this type of medical environment. Patients are in the hospital because they are sick. The dog needs to be extremely adaptable to this setting. And, the human volunteer must attend special training, then annual retraining, to volunteer at the hospital. The hospice setting is similar, as far as the dog goes; for the person, there is extensive training before you start – and the knowledge that the person you are visiting definitely is at the end of life. This can be tough – and not for everyone. As far as working with children, I caution people about the high liability risks involved when working with children. You want to be certain that your dog won’t ever get startled by a child’s sudden movement, turn and bite the child. Your dog should definitely have been raised with children in the home or highly socialized around children. The perfect match is one that works for YOU and for the DOG. You’re a TEAM!
As an evaluator, I make recommendations to folks after I have evaluated their dog, based on my observations of the dog’s personality, controllability, predictability, and level of interaction with the residents we visit. Bottom line, you must be honest with yourself as to your dog’s talents, limits, likes and dislikes. You want this to be an enjoyable experience for both of you. One that you’ll never want to stop doing. Select your place wisely – and if it’s not the right fit for you and your dog – try a different environment and age group.
Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc. has over 50 facilities (a wide variety of programs and populations) requesting our services. There are many places in your area where you and your dog can visit. Joining an organization such as Bright Spot will offer guidance in making your selection.