One of the easiest ways to get involved in the community with your dog is to have your dog become a therapy dog. There are several advantages to therapy work, listed below in no particular order.

  • It promotes active volunteering and community service.
  • It increases the human-animal bond, both between owner and pet and between those receiving the therapy with the therapy dog.
  • It promotes healthy, active lifestyles and obedience training.
  • It puts a smile on the faces of those who may need it most.
  • It increases growth as a person.
  • It gives your dog an important job to do, which many dogs love.
  • It brings the community together.

 Therapy work, however, is not for everyone. The person on the other end of the leash must be polite, courteous, and care about others. The dog must be fully vaccinated, friendly, obedient, and well-mannered with no aggression toward others. Both should be healthy, well-groomed, and take the time to listen and visit with those who need the therapy, and must abide by all rules and regulations of the facility they are visiting at the time. Thus, not every person nor every dog should be involved in therapy work. However, there are a lot of people out there who have dogs with the right temperament to excel as a therapy dog- sometimes, all these dogs need is a direction and some work on manners.

Currently in Dubuque, there are no standards of behavior for therapy dogs to meet before they can begin work. There are many different therapy dog registries one can join, all of which have their own perks (insurance policy, perhaps some other items like ID) and requirements (standards of behavior and temperament). I am a therapy dog evaluator for the K9to5 National Therapy Dog Registry, which has very high standards of behavior for the therapy dogs they register. 

As therapy work takes off and becomes more popular, I think we will start seeing requirements imposed by facilities on visiting therapy dogs before they can begin work. I think a minimum standard of behavior is that set by the AKC CGC evaluation- in my mind, dogs should have passed this standardized test before beginning therapy work. The advantage of requiring dogs to pass a standardized test like this is that (as word spreads) people will know what kind of behavior they should expect from the visiting therapy dog. For instance, a dog who has attained their CGC should be friendly toward other dogs and approaching people, should not startle too easily, should be ok with being left alone for a short time, should not show any signs of aggression, and should comply with basic obedience commands (sit, down, stay, come and heel). In my opinion, any dog going into a public place on a regular basis such as a therapy dog should have passed their CGC.

The CGC test is a great start, but it does not have to be the end. Owners who choose to can shoot for the moon, and the dog will only be better off for the more extensive training. Well trained dogs, after all, have more freedom and get to go more places than dogs who are not as well trained. Here is my testing heirarchy for therapy dogs: 

Registries who do not have as stringent requirements as K9to5 may accept registration for dogs without passing all of the above exams, but passing the above exams will certainly not hurt. If you have any questions about the processes for various therapy dog registries, please email me and I will be happy to go over things with you.

An overview of some of the most popular therapy dog registries around the Dubuque Area:

Love On A LeashTherapy Dogs InternationalDelta Society Pet PartnersK9to5 National Therapy Dog Registry
Control Evaluation given by AKC Evaluator or trainer.Must pass a test administered by a TDI-Certified EvaluatorMust pass exams given by Pet Partners EvaluatorMust pass tests administered by K9to5 evaluator (like Mel)
Sit, Down, Heel, and Come on leash with people nearby.  Two minute Stay with owner nearby. Greeting friendly stranger with dog. Handling. Cleanliness and well-groomed. Under control with stranger behaving erratically. Startle test.Testing includes: Handling, cleanliness, and well-groomed appearance. 1 minute separation from handler (leash held by a stranger). Dog must be okay with being petted by multiple people from multiple directions at the same time.  Sit-Stay and Down-Stay around other dogs while owner goes to end of leash and back. Come when called on 20 foot leash. Mock visit with patient. Loose leash walking while in the presence of distractions. Leave it. Meeting a stranger and strange dog. Entering building while remaining under control. Reaction to children.Handlers must complete an education course, and then teams must complete a temperament assessment and an evaluation.Testing takes place at two different facilities while the team interacts with patients, residents, and staff and includes: Resource guarding test Wait/Stay Down Leave it Move to the side against a wall. Stand from a sit or down. Loose Leash Walking  Walking very slowly. Walking past another dog. Body Handling testing Startle testing Remaining calm while evaluator rushes past in various directions, knocks things over near them, and engages in sudden body movements. Approaching residents in various positions (standing, sitting, and laying down). No treats or corrections are allowed during testing.
Insurance coverage: Coverage of $2,000,000 aggregate and $1,000,000 per occurrence.TDI InsurancePet Partners InsuranceK9to5 Insurance
Cost: $50 the first year, and $30/year after that.Cost: $45 the first year and $30/year after that.Cost: $95 for the first two years, then $70 for each two year period afterwards.Cost: $40/year.
10 hours of supervised visits with successful evaluation of those visits.May be a member of other therapy organizations.Dogs must be at least 1 year old. No dog with a bite history or who has been trained with an electronic collar may be certified through TDI. No treats are allowed.Dogs must be at least 1 year old and have lived in the household for at least 6 months.Dogs may not be fed a raw diet or have been trained to protect in any capacity.Dogs must be at least 1 year old and have passed the CGC Test as well as an intermediate or advanced class.
Equipment: 4 foot leash alone with fabric or leather flat collar (no prong collars, choke chains, or electronic collars). Martingale collars and Gentle Leaders (head collars) are allowed. LOAL membership cards must be visible at all times. LOAL bandana and/or blue clothing/bandana preferred but not required.Plain buckle collars or harnesses are the only equipment allowed.Acceptable Equipment: 
Gentle Leader Easy-Walk Harness
Halti Harness
Freedom Harness
Sensation Harness
Sensible Harness
Body or step-in harnesses 
Buckle, snap, quick-release collars (leather or fabric) 
Limited slip collars (Martingales), if they do not include metal links 
Halters/head collars 
Leashes, no more than 6 feet in length, that are all-leather or all-fabric 

Any equipment that is not listed is not acceptable.
Equipment: Flat buckle collar, harness, or a chainless martingale. Leashes must be 4 to 6 feet in length. No treats allowed during testing or visits.
For more information, click here.Learn more about TDI requirements here and here.Visit Pet Partners for more information.Visit K9to5 for more information.

Already a therapy team? Click here!