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I recently had the opportunity to interview Karen at the Helping Paws Therapy Dog Program. She told me about the important work that they do and what it takes to become a therapy dog.
What is Helping Paws?
Helping Paws is a nonprofit team group that coordinates visits within the community for owners and their therapy dogs. The group also offers ongoing training opportunities for all its members. It was developed by College for Pets, who also has oversight of the group.
Who can participate in Helping Paws?
Any alumni of the College for Pets Therapy Dog program is eligible to join. Their owner can then decide which facilities they wish to take their dogs.
Many of the agencies that our team visits require a background check. For instance, schools, where the dogs interact with children, require a background check, as do most hospitals. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs, which is the organization where all Helping Paws teams are registered, also requires a background check, though it is not as extensive as the ones required by schools.
Besides schools and hospitals, therapy dogs are welcomed in a number of places.
- Nursing Homes
- Assisted Living Facilities
- The Local University
- Senior Centers
- Private Home Visits
- Youth Centers
This is not an exhaustive list. Therapy dogs provide emotional support to people in all sorts of places. We go where we are needed.
How did you first become involved with Helping Paws?
I have been involved with dog therapy work since 2007. When College for Pets first introduced Therapy Dog Training, they asked if I would be willing to teach some of the classes. Not only did I say ?yes,? I found myself running the Helping Paws program as well.
All of the therapy dog work is done by volunteers, including my oversight of the program.
Most of the dogs are handled by their owners, though we do have one team where the handler and the owner are two different people. I have found that most people who want to do this type of work have a way with people, and are truly open and caring.
Why are therapy dogs important?
Therapy dogs offer so much to so many different people.
- Children who have difficulty reading to peers or teachers will happily read to a dog, knowing that there is no judgment from them.
- Elderly nursing home residents often find comfort in a visiting dog when they can no longer have a pet.
Simply put, therapy dogs are important because they possess something special that they openly share with people, unconditional acceptance, and love.
Can you describe one interaction between an individual and a therapy dog that stands out in your mind?
There are so many to choose from. Every interaction ends up being amazing and special. One that still gets me happened while I was visiting a nursing home. I was walking down the hallway with my dog and ran into one of the LNA?s who appeared to be having a very bad day.
With tear-rimmed eyes, she just walked up to my dog, knelt next to him, put her arms around his neck and buried her face in his thick fur. She stayed like that for a good minute before looking at me and just saying ?thank you I needed that.? Then she went back to work.
I don?t know what was going on with her that day. I saw her many times after that and she always stopped to pet my boy, but never mentioned the incident. I?m just glad that we were there to provide comfort when it was needed.
Can You Tell Me More about the College for Pets Therapy Dog Training Program?
One of the most important qualifiers for a therapy dog is their temperament and behavior. They must be comfortable with strangers hugging and petting them. Therefore, the first step is that We all therapy dogs that work with Helping Paws must successfully complete Canine Good Citizen training.
- Accepting a friendly stranger?
- Sitting politely for petting
- Appearance and grooming?
- Walking on a loose lead?
- Walking through a crowd?
- Sit and Down on command and Staying in place?
- Coming when called
- Reaction to another dog
- Reaction to distraction
- Supervised separation
The Canine Good Citizen training was started in 1989 by the American Kennel Club. CGC is a certification program designed to?reward?dogs who have?good manners?at home and in the community.?White Mountain College for Pets?takes the CGC?skills to a?higher level by?incorporating walks on a busy town sidewalk.
Once your dog has received their CGC certificate, then they undergo further training in preparation for the Therapy Dog Test.
- Go to a specific place and remain there
- Ignore food and toy distractions
- Tolerate: yelling, hugging, staggering people and petting
- Not to jump on people
- Demonstrate ease around wheelchairs and other medical equipment
- And other skills specific to therapy dog work.
“Training a therapy dog is an enjoyable experience with College for Pets. We work closely with you from start to finish to make sure that you and your new partner kindle the best relationship possible.”
MIKE ROBERTSON, OWNER
Since 1998, College for Pets has been helping owners train their dogs and other animals. They continue to be leading trainers of service dogs and therapy dogs in the states of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. If you would like more information on how your dog can become a Helping Paws therapy dog, contact College for Pets today.