Tips When Considering a Therapy Dog

It’s become a reality that Bo needs to retire from therapy work after more than 10 years of service. She is still able to handle some visits and really does enjoy visiting people. But one of these days, she will need a well-deserved retirement. I started thinking about what that means and that I need another dog that will (I hope) be able to step into the role.

There is no perfect breed of dog for pet-assisted therapy work. It all has to do with the personality and temperament of the specific dog. They need to be dog friendly and enjoy attention from everyone they meet. I have had people contact me asking what they should look for when looking for a dog they can use for therapy work. Now, I’m in the position of figuring this out for my next therapy dog.

Many dogs (including mixed breeds) can be adopted from shelters and rescues and become great therapy dogs. I encourage people to consider these options whether they are interested in trying pet therapy or just want a nice family dog. Make sure  you are ready and willing to put in the commitment for the lifetime of the dog.

For our family, a purebred has been the perfect fit and a puppy seemed to be the direction for us. Wanting to do the right thing by finding a reputable breeder, and knowing how difficult it was the last two times to find a Norwegian Elkhound puppy within driving distance, I emailed a friend with the same breed. I asked her who she thought might be considering having a litter in the next year and whether they would consider putting me on a waiting list. (Note: Elkhounds are not for everyone, so you should do some research to figure out what would be best for your situation.) Little did I know she would call me that same evening and tell me she knew of a litter that was larger than expected and that she believed they still had a female available.

This caught me a little off guard, but was really good timing! I gave the breeder a call and told her I had no knowledge of or interest in showing or breeding. I know these things take a lot of time and hard work to do it right. I didn’t care if the puppy was “show quality.” Many breeders may only be willing to place their puppies in show homes. Luckily, this breeder was happy to place a puppy in a home that was headed for a pet therapy life.

So, step 1. Find a reputable breeder — check. Step 2: Female puppy available — check. (Note: we prefer females in our house, but males can be good therapy dogs, too.) Step 3: Convince the breeder to allow us to take puppy into our home — check. Then my husband threw a wrench into the mix. “Would she be willing to let us have two?” I was surprised, but after talking, I realized that for us it would be a good thing. After all, Bo and her sister (litter mates) had done well together all these years with each other for companionship. This is not for everyone, though! It’s double the work, expense and double trouble.

When we asked the breeder about a second pup; she asked if we were sure. We convinced her. Step 4:  get approval for second puppy — check. She was going to be evaluating the puppies to help decide which should go to which home. She asked me what I was looking for in personality. Hmmmm…..I’d never been asked that before when I was looking for a therapy dog! I had to stop and think about it and decided they should be outgoing and would be interested in going up to unfamiliar people.

So a few weeks later, we made the drive to pick up our two new little bundles of fluff. I plan to write more posts to let you know how things go and what we’re doing to get them prepared to become great pet-assisted therapy dogs.

Editor’s note: Bo, Jill’s current therapy dog, enjoys many treats and toys from Sergeant’s Pet Care Products. Bo’s favorite is the SENTRY Petrodex Natural Peanut Toothpaste! Do you brush your pet’s teeth? Click here for easy pet dental care tips.

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