A therapy dog is a dog that has been selected, trained, trained, socialized, and desensitized specifically to participate in a program, whether therapeutic or educational, as a tool and motivating element to achieve the objectives proposed by the professional more quickly and dynamic. Regardless of the objective to be achieved, interventions will always be aimed at improving people’s quality of life.
The selection of the therapy dog must be something that has to be carried out very rigorously and with professionalism and knowledge, since this will allow us to guarantee to a greater extent the success and proper functioning of the sessions and in general of the program.
Depending on the type of therapy to be performed, the selection and training of the dog will depend. For example, to work in the hospital, educational or geriatric environment, a different dog will be chosen and trained than the one that will be selected to work with inmates.
Although there are some breeds such as the Golden or the Labrador Retriever that, due to their genetic load, their physical appearance, and their balanced and calm character, are used for this work, the determining factor is really the temperament of the dog; Therefore, there are countless mixed-breed dogs that have a docile and balanced character and their temperament and behavior enable them to participate in the sessions.
Although there are currently no regulations that allow determining whether or not a dog is suitable to work in therapy, the Delta Society * establishes some tests to evaluate, for example, the reaction of the dog to a stranger, walking on a leash, walking in a crowd, obedience, reaction to distractors, yelling and anger, awkward caresses, etc., which can help us more accurately select a suitable dog for this task. The possible scores that are obtained are suitable, not prepared, and not suitable.
A therapy dog, in general, should not have any signs of aggression, phobias, or fears, they should be calm, noble, intelligent dogs that especially enjoy the company and contact of people. Regarding their health, they must be healthy and must be under continuous veterinary supervision.
It is important to highlight that dogs are still animals and that each one, regardless of breed, has a different character and behavior, therefore the sessions must be adapted not only to the needs and capacities of the participants but also to those of the dog. A therapy dog must enjoy his work, and for this, it is necessary that the technician guarantees the conditions for the welfare of the animal at all times.
Let’s not forget that even if a dog is suitable to carry out this task, if it is observed that it presents high levels of stress during the sessions, physical or emotional discomfort, discomfort or displeasure, it should immediately be withdrawn from the session and if necessary from the therapeutic program.
Delta Society: Non-profit organization founded in 1977 in the United States that is dedicated to carrying out Animal-Assisted Therapy projects. It is considered a worldwide reference in the field of Animal Assisted Interventions.