Professional Therapy Dogs or Facility Dogs are often handled by psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and educators. Unlike dogs that are handled by a volunteer, these hard working therapy dogs work along side of professionals to enhance their work. They work with a large number of different people on a daily basis.
Therapy Dog Certifications are Insufficient for Professional Therapy Dogs
Most therapy dog evaluations were created for visitation programs. They were intended for use by volunteers who participate with their dog in either visitation or animal assisted therapy for a couple of hours a week. Compare this to the dog who spends 40 hours or more per week in a human healthcare setting interacting with patients next to a human healthcare professional.
Historically, most Professional Therapy Dogs and Facility dogs were trained and placed by service dog programs. The dogs had undergone the same selection process and training that other service dog candidates have including extensive work on public access training, so the dog learned to be calm for long periods of time in complex environments. A minor health issue or training glitch resulted in the dog being “career changed” to work with a healthcare professional instead of directly assisting a person with a disability.
A Professional Therapy Dog or Facility Dog is not actually a service dog and in fact, many of the skills needed of these dogs are different. The dogs need to be able to quickly shift back and forth between responding to a patient and responding to their handler. There has been significant growth and interest by healthcare professionals, educators in Animal Assisted Interventions and many are choosing to acquire their own dogs and train them independently.
I recommend implementing a combination of a reputable therapy dog evaluation registration/certification, as well as ongoing training practice and intermittent re-evaluations for Professional Therapy Dogs throughout their working careers. This is similar to the ongoing re-evaluations required of working service dogs by reputable programs to ensure that the dog is performing it’s job happily, safely and appropriately.
I have experience supporting professionals interested in selecting, training a therapy dog or incorporating animal assisted therapy in their professional work. I trained and handled therapy dogs as well as service dogs from puppy-raising to full public access, including task training (complex behaviors), public access evaluations and supported clients in working towards these goals.
I met requirements to become a full member of Animal Assisted Intervention International in the area of Animal Support. This organization was founded by service dog programs that placed professional therapy dogs, and is focused on setting industry standards in this growing field.
I have a combination of formal education, hands-on experience and credentials in the fields of psychology, education, animal behavior and rehabilitation. I worked as a public school teacher in a school with many special needs students and gained direct experience working with various social service agencies. Additionally, my personal experience living with a disability has given me a very personal interest in the incorporation of animal assisted therapy in healthcare.