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How To Train Your Dog as a Certified Therapy Dog By Tori Mistick

Remy Bibaud | 21 July, 2020

            Therapy Dog Lucy and Tori Mistick and Wear Wag Repeat

By Tori Mistick ofWear Wag Repeat

I dreamed of getting my dog certified as a therapy dog for years! When I finally did it, I realized I should have done it sooner. The therapy dog test isn’t as hard as I thought it would be, especially after some dedicated training. 

If you’ve always dreamed of doing therapy dog volunteer work then I encourage you to go for it! In this post, I’ll share my experience training my chocolate lab Lucy to become a therapy dog and what to expect on the therapy dog certification test.

Training For the Therapy Dog Test

I was lucky to connect with a local group of dog owners who have an informal club called Therapy Dogs of Pittsburgh. I took Lucy to the monthly group lessons for about a year before we attempted to pass the therapy dog test.

Those group lessons were very focused on the specific challenges of the therapy dog test. To best prepare our dogs, many of the training sessions took place outside on busy sidewalks, in building lobbies and more.

Some of the biggest takeaways from our therapy dog group training are:

  • Teach your dog to greet people as calmly as possible.
  • Your dog shouldn’t jump up or paw at someone’s leg.
  • Your dog shouldn’t bark and wiggle around too much when being greeted.
  • Instead, they should sit or stand calmly as a stranger approaches them.
  • Your dog should be able to heel and walk on a loose leash.

Learning how to greet people calmly was definitely easier for some of the pups in our group classes than others! Being able to sit or lay down and be calm for an extended period of time is important in most therapy dog work.


Finding a Therapy Dog Test Evaluator

Lucy got her certification through Therapy Dogs International (TDI). You can read about theTDI testing requirements on their website. These may differ slightly from tests with other organizations that our friends are certified through likePAWS for People orAlliance of Therapy Dogs.

All three of these organizations (and many more) arerecognized by the AKC. That means that getting certified through them also makes your dog eligible to receive the AKC Therapy Dog title if you’re interested in doing that. 

During the test we took with an official TDI evaluator, there were about 8 dogs and their handlers in the room. The dogs were all different breeds, sizes and ages. Some of the handlers (aka owners) had been through the test with previous dogs, but for most of us it was our first time.

The test is full of basic obedience commands like sit-stay, down-stay, loose leash walking, and leave it. While you’re not allowed to use any treats on the test, you are allowed to say anything you need to get your dog to pass. While Lucy was in her down-stay I continued to reinforce the stay verbally and with hand signals and I rewarded her for holding it by saying ‘good girl’ plenty of times!

Part of the test includes the evaluator bringing out walkers, crutches and a wheelchair to make sure none of the dogs are scared of that equipment. They might even drop a crutch next to your dog to see if they jump or react in some way (the goal is for your dog to not react!).

The hardest part of the test for Lucy was when we had to loose-leash walk past a bowl of dog treats on the floor! In fact, she didn’t do a good job the first time through and the evaluator let us try a second time.

Remember, this a test of your dog! It’s not really a test of your behavior as a dog owner. So don’t be afraid to use the commands that work best for you.

Learn More About Becoming a Certified Therapy Dog

This is an excerpt from a blog post that originally appeared on Wear Wag Repeat,  Was it worth it to train my dog as a certified therapy dog? You can read the full post to learn about where therapy dogs are allowed to go, how you can be a good therapy dog handler and the cost of getting certified.

 About the Author:

Tori Mistick is a dog lifestyle expert and the founder of award-winning blog  Wear Wag Repeat, a multimedia brand dedicated to helping women live their best life alongside their dogs. She also hosts a podcast for petpreneurs. Find it by searching Wear Wag Repeat in your favorite podcast app.

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