Article contributed by Brenda Sanders, Certified Evaluator, Therapy
Brenda has actively pursued training her own and other's dogs to do therapy work. In so doing she has provided inspiration for Bernese Mountain Dog owners as well as an invaluable service to the public and canine communities at large.
Therapy dogs, as opposed to Service Dogs, provide short-term emotional support. Many opportunities exist for sharing your dog with others, including visiting nursing homes, hospital children's wards, mental health centers, hospices and schools. Berners are a good breed for this work because of their innate gentleness and "huggability".
While many people visit such institutions with their dogs on an informal, individual basis, there are definite advantages to being certified. First, your dog will have been tested and evaluated by a third party. Many people are so anxious to volunteer they cannot recognize their particular dog may not be suited for this work. Secondly, the certifying organizations provide insurance for you when you visit. Even the gentlest dog may push over a small child or break fragile older skin. Many institutions will no longer allow canine visits without proof of such insurances.
To become certified with either TDI or Delta Dog, you and your dog must pass a test given by a Certified Evaluator of the organization you select. The test is an adaptation of the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test and includes: walk on loose lead, sit and down on command, stay, come when called, reaction to another dog, reaction to sudden noise and movement, sit politely for petting, accept grooming and supervised isolation. At various points in the test, wheelchairs, canes, crutches and walkers will be introduced. For Delta Dog certification, the handler must also pass a written test, questions based on a handbook provided by Delta.
Both organizations stress that Therapy Dog or Pet Partner is not a title. Dogs who pass the testing, but never provide the service are not therapy dogs.
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