Happy National Therapy Dog Appreciation Day! We’ll take any excuse that we can to shed some light on the positive effects dogs bring to our lives, so today we’re honoring therapy dogs. However, there is some confusion between a therapy dog and a service dog, so we’re clearing that up too.
Read on for the differences between a therapy dog and a service dog and some fun facts!
The difference between a service dog and a therapy dog is a service dog performs a task for a person with a disability, and a therapy dog is trained to go out and help others, not just one person, according to Nancy George-Michalson, the executive director of New York Therapy Animals. “A therapy dog is a dog that is your pet first, and you have recognized that they are well mannered, they’re good listeners, people love them, are attracted to them, they seek people out to be pet and to be paid attention to,” George-Michaelson said. Working animals are service animals, not pets, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When training a therapy dog, it is essential to be confident that the dog will be happy doing the work because they need to be controllable, reliable, and predictable at all times, according to George-Michaelson. Because therapy dogs can be placed in any setting, they need to be prepared and adaptable to various environments, including the state of mind of which their owner and handler or the group of people they are helping is in. “But the bottom line, we want them to love people, and are willing to engage in people and go up to people, and not be sensitive to people walking around them,” she says.
The most common setting for a therapy dog historically is a hospital, according to George-Michaelson, but New York Therapy Animal’s most common request is their Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D) program. “This is a program we have in schools where children who are struggling readers read to a therapy dog,” George-Michaelson explains.
Not every dog is meant to be a therapy dog because of issues the dog might have, but any breed can be one. Essentially, shy dogs don’t make the cut. They need to be sociable with humans and other animals. “We also want them to cope with stress and surprises because that does happen sometimes,” George-Michaelson says. Even more importantly, the dog and their handler need to have a “solid relationship” according to George-Michaelson, and they need to be able to read each other’s stress signals and not let anything happen to each other.
Visit New York Therapy Animals to learn how your dog can become a therapy dog.
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