How to Become a Therapy Dog

Lucy is not ordinary therapy dog. Her story is the stuff  of which feel good dog movies are made.

“A large brown Cocker Spaniel came into the shelter,” the volunteer at Oklahoma City Animal Shelter said.

Days passed and no claimed this sweet girl with a happy attitude.

June and Mike Myers weren’t looking to adopt another dog, especially after the loss of their beloved Cocker of 16 years, Buster. Fate had other plans in store.

As a volunteers and transporters for dogs in need, the Myers family decided they would foster the dog if not claimed by the stray hold date.

“We arrived at the shelter on January 4, 2016 to pick her up,” June Myers recalls. “When they brought her out, she was not a Cocker but a beautiful liver colored Field Spaniel.”

Lucy’s journey begins.

How to become a therapy dog

One-Eyed Jack

For starters, the dog-loving duo needed to determine if Lucy would get along with their one-eyed diabetic stray-to-stay cat, Jack. In a near instant bond, Jack and Lucy became the best of friends, snuggling, hanging out, and forming an animal friendship.

How to become a therapy dog
Lucy and Jack catch a “cat nap”

Age is Just a Number

June and Mike Myers are proud of their senior citizen status as June readily admits.

“At our age, it is almost impossible to list all the dogs that have shared our lives, but from 1991 until July 2015 we had Cocker Spaniels.”

Lucy quite readily adapted to her life of love and kitty companionship, leading to the Myers’ status as foster failures. After 19 days as a foster dog, Lucy Myers found her forever home.

Therapy Dog Lucy does a meet and greet
Lucy does a “hello” on check in for a therapy visit.

A New Leash on Life

The Myers duo are retired and love to help dogs in need when not traveling the country in their RV. As part of their commitment to homeless dogs, June is a member of the Cocker Spaniel Club of Central Oklahoma, where Lucy is dubbed an official “honorary Cocker.”

President of the Club, Joyce McIntyre took notice of Lucy’s personality, describing her as even tempered, friendly, calm, and loving.  Love is an understatement: Lucy takes to everyone from dogs to cats to people. This dog lover and writer knows because I met this little angel in person.

McIntyre suggested to Myers that Lucy would be a wonderful candidate for a therapy dog. As an evaluator for Therapy Dog International, McIntyre became Myers’ mentor and Lucy’s road to therapy dog began.

Therapy dog visit
Lucy making the rounds at her visits.

What is Therapy Dog International?

Therapy Dogs International (TDI®) is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing and registration of therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers for the purpose of visiting nursing homes, hospitals, other institutions and wherever else therapy dogs are needed.

Therapy dogs are not to be confused with service dogs, who are trained to perform specific takes for a person with a disability.

Dog who train to become a therapy dog must pass specific tests and earn a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) title first. TDI registers all breeds of dog, both purebred dogs and mixed mutts. Some dogs have pedigrees, while others have been adopted from local shelters or are rescue dogs like Lucy.

Canine Good Citizen testing
Our dog, Dexter, is a Canine Good Citizen, and made the news about it!

Step One: Canine Good Citizen Testing

The American Kennel Club launched the Canine Good Citizen Program in 1989. It’s designed to teach responsible dog ownership behaviors to pet parents, while dogs learn basic training and good manners. The core of the program is the 10-step testing process. Whether pedigree or mutt, spunky Sparky or golden oldie, dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages are eligible.

Most basic obedience classes or formalized CGC training sessions cover the skills needed for a pooch to pass the test, but I taught my dog from the comfort of home. After practicing for a few months together, my dog, Dexter, passed the CGC test on his first try, thus giving him the Canine Good Citizen title at the age of three.

My dog has manners, and the American Kennel Club says so! One of my favorite dog traveling moments involves letting the reservation desk know that my dog Dexter is a “CGC” — a Canine Good Citizen — and that his decorum is delightful. It shows that dogs are wonderful traveling companions who can be trusted to stay at the finest hotels.

I held my breath as the tester looked at the two of us and said, “You have quite the bond with your dog,” and then proceeded to tell me we passed. Having the Good Citizen title gave me the warm fuzzies and earned me a prize of my own: poochie smoochies.

Lucy trained with Myers and McIntyre along with another trainer, Carol Garr. She passed her CGC with flying colors.

Therapy dog love
Me stealing some time with Lucy as my dog, Dexter, smiles

Step Two: Therapy Dog Training and Testing

The AKC allows dogs to earn the title of AKC Therapy Dog™ if the dog meets specific criteria. First, the dog must be certified/registered by an AKC recognized therapy dog organization. Myers worked with Therapy Dog International in testing Lucy.

To belong to Therapy Dogs International (TDI®) all dogs must be tested and evaluated by a Certified TDI Evaluator. A dog must be a minimum of one (1) year of age and have a sound temperament. Each dog must pass a TDI temperament evaluation for suitability to become a Therapy Dog. The test will also include the evaluation of the dog’s behavior around people with the use of some type of service equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, etc.).

“These are basically the same things you test for CGC, except the medical equipment is added,” Myers says. “Prior to testing for Therapy Dog, Lucy passed her advanced Canine Good Citizen test. Prior to this we applied to AKC to a PAL # (Purebred Alternate Listing), which she received.  Now, her papers will have her TDI title and her ACGC listed after her name,” Myers beams.

TDI was founded in 1976 and has a set of guidelines in place for dog parents who are interested in having their pooch become a therapy dog.

TDI says that a therapy dog must have an outstanding temperament. “This means that the dog should be outgoing and friendly to all people; men, women, and children. The dog should be tolerant of other dogs (of both genders) and non-aggressive toward other pets. Before you consider having your dog evaluated, you should ask yourself if your dog has these qualities.”

In order to pass the Therapy Dog International test and gain the title, your dog must pass 13 steps that include: visiting with a “patient;” testing of reactions to unusual situations (pass a person on crutches, person walks by and drops something); leave it to an object; reaction to children, and more.

Myers will now send this information to AKC, with proof of 10 visits performed by Lucy in her therapy dog capacity. In return, Lucy will have “Novice Therapy Dog” added to her name.

therapy dog training
June and Lucy ready for their therapy dog visit

Read more about the elements of TDI testing here in their testing brochure.

A dog can earn different titles associated with the AKC Therapy Dog testing by performing a required number of visits for the title for which a person applies. These titles include:

  • AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN). Must have completed 10 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog (THD). Must have completed 50 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA). Must have completed 100 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX). Must have completed 200 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD). Must have completed 400 visits.

Lucy is currently working on her THD title, as Myers does 4 to 5 visits a month with Lucy in her therapy dog role.

All dogs are eligible to earn AKC Therapy Dog titles, including purebreds and mixed breeds. The dog must be registered or listed with AKC. To earn an AKC Therapy Dog title, dogs must be registered or listed with AKC and have a number. This includes any one of these three options listed on the AKC website. Learn more about therapy dog titles from the AKC here.

Yes, Lucy passed her TDI test and is now making a difference in the lives of even more people.

Testing your dog to become a therapy dog

I Love Lucy: Smiles for Miles

“It is so rewarding to see the smiles on the people’s faces,” Myers says. “They all want to pet her or hug her and Lucy eats it up.”

Lucy has a standing appointment at an Assisted Living Center every Thursday. Myers shares that many people remember Lucy’s name and anticipate her visit. June’s husband, Mike, comes along, takes photos, and is part of team Lucy. One resident has a framed photo of her visit with Lucy in her room as a treasured memento.

Outside of her work with Lucy, Myers works with her local animal shelter and is an adoption advocate so that other dogs can find their forever homes.

“There are so many wonderful and even full breed dogs in shelters that need loving families,” she says. “We have transported so many wonderful cocker spaniels to rescues.  It breaks my heart seeing them in shelters.”

Her best advice for anyone considering doing therapy with their dog is this: Doing the therapy visits is so rewarding to see the smiles on the residences of these facilities, it is also rewarding for Lucy.  Dogs need a purpose other than lying around sleeping all day.

They need activity. Way to be a role models for people and dogs, Myers family! We raise our sparkling water bowls to you!

Buster and June
June and Cocker Spaniel, Buster, who lived to over 16 years of age.

 

Comments

  1. LOVE, love, love this story!!! Congrats to my friend, June and wigglebutt Lucy!!!! Such a beautiful bond between you two. Lucy is truly an incredible and special spaniel who would and will make each day brighter for someone. Thank you for all you do, June!

  2. My beloved Abigail, cocker extraordinaire, was a hospital therapy dog at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. We had such fun and loved visiting people! Abigail had her own vest, with her id card attached. It was a wonderful experience! Once I get my knee replacement surgery done, I intend to take Clementine for training. Dog owners should do this more often!

  3. Wonderful post! Lucy is truly a Lucky dog to be rescued by such wonderful people. She’s also a very Special dog. I know she’ll continue to bring lots of comfort and smiles to many people in need. Working with my own dog, my Husky Icy, to become a therapy dog team is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I love giving back to the community with my dog by my side!

  4. MY LUCIE and I have been a therapy dog team for 7 years now! LUCIE loves it & everyone loves her- she is the Hugging Dog!! So many people in the hospital dont get touched enough and are in very vunerable place. The dogs make them feel better.

    NOW_ SAMSON has his THERAPY PET CERTIFICATION! 1st Cat in the Pet VIP organization that has 500 dogs! Cant wait to see how many people get joy from SAMSON!

  5. We had a similar experience with Shasta. From the moment we rescued him we realized he would make a great Therapy Dog. When we moved the Central Valley, about 2 years ago, the hospital requested my help to put together their pet therapy program. We partnered with PetSmart and Pet Partners and Shasta was their 1st Pet Therapy dog. The experiences and memories are priceless.

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