Before visiting with your pet you should get some objective evidence that your pet has an appropriate temperament. Testing will, at minimum, evaluate the dog's appropriate temperament and behavior. Usually the dog is also evaluated for health, freedom from parasites and contagious disease, and immunization status for human transmittable disease. Testing and registration is important for the protection of you, your dog, the people you visit, and the good reputation of pet visitation programs. You should not even consider visiting without insurance and you will need evidence of your pet's appropriate behavior and temperament to qualify for insurance.
You can get tested and registered by contacting a local or national organization. Contact one of the national organizations for visits on your own. Contact local groups if you want the guidance and support of belonging to a group. Local groups may require their own testing, or will require registration from one of the national organizations. There are also some programs that certify the human half of the team or provide more advanced coursework for more formal work in the field.
Most registering organizations issue some form of identification tag for the pet. In some cases this will help persuade a business owner to allow a dog access to the business property for training purposes. It is important, however, not to mislead anyone into believing that they must treat the dog as a service animal. A "service animal" assists an individual and is required to be admitted only when acting in that capacity. A therapy dog is not a service dog. A service dog is assigned to a specific individual.
Most tests are described as an extension of the Canine Good Citizen® Certificate. Added to the standard test would be such things approaching and passing someone in a wheelchair, or someone who stumbles and lurches as they walk. Loud noises are almost always a part of the test, such as a loud clap from a couple pieces of wood slapped together, or the clatter of a dropped metal pan.Food might be placed on the ground in front of the dog, and the dog expected to listen to instructions to "leave it."
The cost of testing and registration varies from "free" to over $100. "Free" certifications are typically done by local organizations in exchange for your commitment to volunteer visits for a certain number of hours in a specified time. The exact testing procedure will vary. Often there are multiple steps involved. For example, there may be both a behavior evaluation by a vet and one by an evaluator.
Often there is a kind of probationary period for one to several visits during which your team (that's you and your pet) will be observed for appropriate interaction. For most organizations require medical exams and proof of immunizations (some allow titers to prove immunity status).
Check with the individual organization about what their registration program means. In some cases the handler-pet team can work independently, finding their own facilities and making their own visit arrangements. In other cases the handler-pet team can only go to approved facilities, ones that have some kind of formal relationship with the group. Some organizations allow teams to visit on their own, will others only permit group visits. There is a lot of variety. There is no "best" choice. What is right for you depends upon your experience, your goals, your level of self-confidence. A list of both national and local organizations is available on the "Find Group to Join" page, and more on the therapy groups links page.
All of these organizations, local and national, have varying requirements. Two examples are Therapy Dogs, International (TDI) and Delta Society. These are not the only organizations that will test and register your dog for visiting.
TDI does not test the handler in terms of intellectual knowledge. They test the dog through a version of the Canine Good Citizen Test. You get a tag saying that your dog is a Registered Therapy dog. TDI only registers dogs. If you have a different kind of pet you will need a different testing and registering organization.
Delta Society trains you as the handler either through local workshops, if they are available in your area, or through a home study course that you can get through the mail. Then your animal is tested locally for temperament and for good citizenship by a test similar to the Canine Good Citizen Test. A picture of the handler and pet is sent in and a badge/ID card is sent back. Delta will test animals other than dogs. Delta requires re-testing of the animal/handler team every two years. Delta has "levels" depending on
For example, taking a dog for "meet and greet" in a quiet nursing home would be Level 1. Taking a highly- trained dog/handler into a locked psychiatric facility would be Level 3. There is no hierarchy of "status" implied; only the training and experience needed by the team to handle the complexity of the interaction.
Some colleges and universities offer certifications through more formal course work.
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Copyright © 1996-2003, Diane Blackman Created: August 23, 1996 Updated November 12, 2007