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Dogs for Therapy

By Beverley Bardell

The year is very quickly winding down and, as we look ahead to the New Year, we may start to think of new adventures we can take and share with our beloved pets.

If you’ve thought about retirement, cutting back on your work schedule or how you could utilize your extra time in a happy and productive way, then volunteering is a great way to do so. It could also be beneficial for your pup.

There are a number of different so called “Service” dogs out there but there are very few that are legally recognized as such. Seeing Eye dogs being number one. Dogs have also been trained to alert their owner when someone is at the door or a phone is ringing for the hearing impaired. While others have the ability to detect oncoming seizures in their owners and to help them to a safe place such as lying on the floor. The dog would then lie gently on top of them during the seizure which lessens the chance of the person falling or harming themselves.

While these are specialized categories and the dogs require professional training, there is something that the majority of us and our pets can do on our own and that is to have a pup trained to be a “Therapy” dog.

While this is not a legally recognized field, there are certain facilities that sponsor a program for Therapy Dogs and you and your best friend may want to look into getting involved. Taking your pup into a facility where Therapy Programs are on-going can be very rewarding emotionally and will also help those in the facilities by giving them a sense of well-being and happiness.

For any pup to be considered a good candidate for therapy work, he or she needs to be at least eighteen months old, friendly with people and enjoy being petted and shown lots of affection. If your pup is overly excitable, extremely nervous, or doesn’t like to be handled too much, then therapy work is not for you.

In order to train a pup for therapy work basic obedience is your first step and, regardless of whether you want to do volunteer work with your pup or not, basic obedience is always a wise thing to teach your companion dog.

For a dog to do therapy work it doesn’t matter the breed, size or sex. As long as the dog is well mannered, clean, friendly, and enjoys being with people, then it will work.

One facility that does have a recognized Pet Therapy Program is CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). If you sign up to volunteer, you and your dog will attend two training sessions at the downtown Toronto CAMH Facility. At these sessions you will meet and talk to a number of people involved in the program, attend the training sessions which are approximately two hours long, and your dog will be assessed to see if he or she would be a good fit for the program.

Almost every dog and his handler will pass and you will receive a Certificate and your dog will be given a bandana to wear when going into the facility to volunteer. The patients who spend time with the therapy dogs in the facility are extremely happy to see them and spend time with them and, in most cases, have given them the encouragement to go forward with their treatment in order to get well and go on to lead a normal and productive life.

The benefit to you is that you will feel good knowing that you have brought joy and happiness to a person who really needs it and, at the end of your session, your pup will be happy and mentally stimulated and will rest for the remainder of the day.

So, if you think you and your best friend are up for a challenge and want to bond and spend good, quality time together, think about volunteering in a Dog Therapy Program.

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Beverley Bardell is Integrated K9’s trainer in the Scarborough/Durham area. If you

or anyone you know is looking for dog training in that area, you can

call her at 647-786-5239 or email her at


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