The How-tos of Owning a Therapy Pet

Lately I have been getting contacted by more people interested in taking a dog to work with them. This has included everyone from therapists to teachers to senior facility employees.

My best friend has been taking her dogs to work with her for years. But she owns her own business and does not expect her dogs to be “working” when they are there. She takes them for her own companionship during the day. Some offices, like Sergeant’s, have days that they allow their employees to bring their dogs to work with them. These dogs are there to have a little fun (and to get spoiled with delicious Pur Luv Chewy Bites) for the day with their owner.

As far as getting a dog for pet-assisted therapy yourself: First, I am a member of Therapy Dogs, Inc. and am “registered” and insured through the company. They “register” teams, not “certify,” as they have completely different definitions. Our insurance does not cover anyone while they are “on the clock.” They have to be visiting on a volunteer basis. Other pet-assisted therapy organizations may have different rules on this.

There is no perfect breed or mix for a therapy dog. It all has to do with the personality and temperament of the individual dog. A person should first do research to decide what breed (or mix) would fit best with their household and lifestyle. If they find a  friendly and outgoing dog that they are willing to work to train to walk well on a leash, not jump on people, etc., this could be a good candidate. Socialization with other dogs and unfamiliar people is extremely important. If you are not an experienced dog owner, obedience classes would be another good thing to consider.

Therapy dogs do NOT have the same access as service dogs, however. Therapy dogs are NOT permitted to go into restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Service dogs are dogs with special, specific training that are allowed to go everywhere the person they are serving goes.

If you are looking to get a dog and take it with you to work, you need to make sure your company is willing to take the risk and allow the dog in their facility. Also verify that their insurance covers any type of injury to the people the dog will encounter. Again, pet therapy insurance would NOT cover you at work.

You must think about the dog first and foremost. Therapy dogs are usually only asked to work for an hour or so each day, not our average work day of 8 or 9 hours. So expecting a dog to be tolerant of all types of people of all ages at all times is more than most dogs would enjoy or would tolerate. The dog needs places to get away for a while and have its own space where it doesn’t have someone chasing and pestering it.

You also cannot let a dog run around unsupervised: you never know what it can get into or what it may have to encounter. Many people may figure that it’s fine for them to feed it anything, including things that are dangerous and/or deadly to the dog. That could include chocolate, grapes, raisins, chicken bones or even just too much food that will make the dog overweight and cause other health issues. Additionally, something could happen and you wouldn’t know the details. Someone could get hurt (knocked over, tripped, bitten, etc.) or the dog could get injured. If you weren’t right there, how long until you would find out your dog was sick and could get it medical attention?

Dogs can also have “off days,” just like people.

I know many people miss their pets and enjoy having dogs visit them. We’ve seen that over all the years we’ve been doing pet therapy. It can be really good for everyone, but it has to be the proper situation. Therapy handlers are the only ones who are allowed to handle their dogs. They may allow some people to hold a smaller dog on their lap, but they are responsible for their dog and must maintain control of it at all times.

I hope this gives you some things to think about before diving into therapy dog ownership. They are not toys. We consider ours our children and family members. Most dogs do enjoy having some type of job, but your workplace may not be the right situation for your dog.

Tags: , , , ,

  • Print
  • email