The first step to becoming a pet therapy team is to determine if you and your pet are suitable. While we all love our pets very much, not all pets have the right temperament or personality to become therapy pets and not all people enjoy this type of volunteer work. If your pet is very young, or new to you, it might take some time to determine if they are suitable. Of course, you can work with with your pet on developing suitability skills by exposing them to new people, other animals, being handled etc.
Your dog should be tolerant, social, and under control. Your dog should be friendly and outgoing and enjoy the company of people. In addition, your dog should be accepting and non-aggressive toward other animals. If your dog is shy or fearful of people or new places, growls or pulls away when approached, they might not be a good fit as a therapy dog. Or, they might require extensive work and confidence building. The only dogs not eligible are those that have been trained as attack dogs or in canine sports that involve bite work.
Many domestic pets and farm animals can be used as therapy pets. Your pet needs to be comfortable around other people and noises, enjoy being handled, calm around other animals, quick to recuperate after travel, and tolerant of closed spaces. Pets cannot have a tendency to bite, scratch, or kick.
To determine what pets, dog breeds, ages etc can be therapy pets visit our FAQ and definitions page.
Of course, in addition to having a suitable pet, you, as a handler, need to determine if this kind of volunteer work is right for you. Your animal does not work alone, your role is just as important. As a handler you are expected to demonstrate positive interactions with your pet. You need to be able to read your pet’s body language and recognize signs of discomfort, over stimulation or fatigue. And you need to feel comfortable making friendly positive conversation with people you meet in visits.
After determining if you and your pet have the desired qualities to become a Therapy Pet Team you can begin training.