Therapy Dogs Are Born and Not Made

I've been getting a lot of inquiries lately about training a dog to be a therapy pet.  Therapy pets are the ones that go into hospitals, nursing homes and similar places to help ease stress and bring comfort to humans. For the dogs that can do the job they can certainly make a big impact. Whats important for owners to understand is that the training is actually a small part of the job.  Learning to be reasonably obedient is a fairly straightforward and mechanical thing.  What distinguishes Therapy animals is that success depends mostly on the dog's native temperament. And this is something they are born with. Below is a statement from Therapy Pets Unlimited that summarizes this key but often misunderstood aspect of the unique role of Therapy Dog.

A therapy pet is born, not made. A pet can be taught proper behavior, but a pet’s inherent temperament cannot be changed. When a pet is put under stress, a poor or marginal temperament will surface.

A therapy pet must have a rock-solid temperament. This means that the pet should be outgoing and friendly to everyone: men, women, and children. A dog should be friendly toward other dogs (of both genders) and non-aggressive toward other pets. Cats and other species don’t necessarily need to be dog friendly, but must not react strongly when in the vicinity of a dog. Before you consider having your pet evaluated, ask yourself if your pet has these qualities. All volunteer teams (owner and pet) will go through an evaluation before registering as a therapy team. This vital safeguard protects the team as much as it protects others. If you know in your heart that your pet is not suited for therapy work, don’t let the fact that this is something you’ve always wanted to do dictate your actions. Pay attention to what your instincts about your pet are telling you.