Updated: Aug 19
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Therapy animals are growing in popularity all over the world. If you look around, you'll see a therapy animals at your local police stations, nursing homes, schools, funeral homes, and more. All over our communities, therapy animal-handler teams are providing comfort and emotional support for others.
Have you ever wondered if your pet has what it takes to be a therapy animal? Do you want to show your community comfort and emotional support with the help of your pet? There are many facets of training and temperament that come together for the ideal therapy animal. Here are 5 signs that your pet might make a good therapy animal:
Sign #1 That Your Pet Might Make a Good Therapy Animal: Your pet seeks out interactions with other people.
When you have a visitor to your home or you greet someone as you are out and about does your pet approach them for attention or run and hide? A pet that will enjoy therapy animal work is a pet that is happy to greet others. Does your pet paw at or jump on visitors to demand attention? That's actually not a terrible thing! You'll be able to train your pet to greet people politely, but if they don't actually like interacting with strangers you won't be able to force them to enjoy it.
That being said, if your pet is a little timid or under-socialized, it doesn't necessarily mean that they can never be a therapy animal. You might see them really open up with some structured socialization and training for confidence and relaxation! Focusing on those things will certainly help your pet and improve your relationship and down the road you might just see that they are eagerly greeting strangers as well!
Sign #2 That Your Pet Might Make a Good Therapy Animal: Your pet isn't scared of surprising noises.
How does your pet react after hearing a loud, startling noise like thunder, fireworks, or a crash when something falls over? Jumping or startling at the sound is perfectly normal (in fact, if they don't, you may want to get their hearing checked!), but you'll want to keep an eye on how your pet reacts after that. Do they tremble or hide? Do they simply continue on with their day? Maybe they even head towards the noise to investigate it! Pets must be able to handle loud noises with ease for success as a therapy animal. While they may not hear thunder, fireworks, loud clanging, popping balloons, etc. at every visit, an inability to recover after a surprising noise will make a pet an ineffective therapy animal.
Sign #3 That Your Pet Might Make a Good Therapy Animal: Your pet enjoys petting all over by anyone.
Does your dog only like being pet a certain way in certain areas? Will your cat play fight with your hands if you pet her belly? While I am sure they are perfectly sweet when you snuggle them just the right way, a therapy animal needs to be comfortable being pet all over. While you may be able to coach people how to pet your therapy animal during an interaction, there will almost certainly come a time in your therapy animal's life when they are pet all over. If your pet doesn't like this, therapy animal work is not for them.
It's also important to do your best to determine whether your pet enjoys petting or tolerates petting. Is your pet constantly staring at you or even trying to get back to you while they're being pet by someone else? They may just be tolerating petting. If you allow your pet to approach someone, do they approach calmly (or even eagerly!)? Or do they assume a submissive position like crouching low to the ground, holding their head low, or flopping belly up as soon as the person reaches for or looks at them? Your pet may be displaying signs that they are uncomfortable, even if they are approaching another person for attention. Pay very close to your pet's body language around you and others to ensure that they are actually enjoying petting fr0m everyone!
Sign #4 That Your Pet Might Make a Good Therapy Animal: Your pet is comfortable playing with toys or taking treats in a variety of settings.
This one might seem a little silly since therapy animals don't often play with toys when they are on a visit, but whether or not your pet will play with a toy or take a treat can actually be a great indicator of your pet's stress level! If you pet will eagerly eat their kibble at home but ignores it when you're outside, they are likely too overstimulated. If your pet plays tug and fetch at home, but ignores toys at your friend's house, they are likely too overstimulated there too. If they are overstimulated, they are more likely to make poor choices than when they are calm and relaxed.
If you know me very well, you probably know what I'll recommend if your pet won't take treats or play with toys... relaxation training! Teaching your pet to remain calm in a variety of distraction levels can help reduce their stress, make it more difficult for them to become overstimulated, and may even get them comfortable enough to enjoy visiting a variety of places as a therapy animal.
Sign #5 That Your Pet Might Make a Good Therapy Animal: YOU are ready to put in the work!
No matter how perfectly your pet's temperament matches up with all the other items on this list, they are still going to need training so that you can set them up for success and ensure that all of their therapy animal visits go smoothly! A huge part of being a successful therapy animal-handler team falls onto the handler. You'll need to be ready and willing to advocate for your pet, both during the training process and after you have become a certified animal-handler team. This might mean you have to tell people to *gasp* not say it to your pet when they are too excited, so you don't reinforce naughty behaviors. It might mean that you have to cut a visit short because you noticed that your pet is uncomfortable. If you're going to be a therapy animal handler, you'll need to make sure you are providing your pet with the training and care they need to be a happy, healthy, calm, and confident therapy animal!
And there you have it! Do you and your pet show all 5 of these signs? Well, you might just make a great therapy animal-handler team!
Now it's time for the training to begin. Because just because your pet has the right temperament and you have the will to work doesn't mean you'll be ready to become a certified therapy animal-handler team tomorrow! You have lots of training to do! Don't know what training to focus on first? Head to kingscreatures.com/kcat-club to get started! Have you already started training your pet to become a therapy animal? Let me know how it's going!