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What is Therapy Dog Prep School?

What is Therapy Dog Prep School?

Have people often told you your dog is so sweet that it should be a therapy dog? Have you ever wondered what’s involved in actually doing that sort of volunteer work with your dog? Pawsitive Teams has been offering Therapy Dog Preparation School (Prep School for short) just for folks like you and your pup for over 20 years!! Read on!!

Therapy dogs are not legally defined by federal laws and there are no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy dogs in places of public accommodation that have “No Pets” policies. A therapy dog is basically a very well-trained pet dog who, once certified with its human, can volunteer in many different places to provide comfort to others.

The concepts behind Pawsitive Teams’ Therapy Dog Prep School are that students can first, gain insights into this type of volunteer work, what is required, and what is involved. And second, students can observe how their dog behaves during the activities. Prep School asks if this the right job for your dog and is it the right volunteer work for you? The curriculum for the six-week program was developed somewhat like using Legos to build an object. What is taught in Week 1 provides a foundation for what is taught in Weeks 2 and 3 which then builds upon those lessons to provide the foundation for Week 4.

In Week 4, Pawsitive Teams volunteers who participate in our Therapy Dog Program perform as actors in a variety of situations that one might encounter if one was to volunteer with one’s dog. Students must quickly assess what is going on in each situation and act accordingly. At the end of the Week 4 activities, the actors introduce themselves and describe their station so the group can discuss how they and their dog reacted when encountering it.

The first four weeks of class then form the foundation for Week 5, when students visit either a health care/rehab facility or a residential children’s facility to work with their dogs in a real facility. An instructor generally observes no more than two student/dog teams as they interact with the residents. Feedback is provided to and from instructors and students at the end of class. The 6th week of Therapy Dog Prep School is graduation, where students review all the lessons, demonstrate what they’ve learned, show off a trick they’ve taught their dog, and so on.  Certificates as well as caps and gowns for canines help make the photo shoot a fun time at the end!

When I first took Therapy Dog Prep School about a dozen years ago, I was astonished. I sure wish I’d had the opportunity some 24 years ago back in Virginia to take such a class! When our Lab Harley and I were first certified to be a therapy dog team, we took a test and had a four-hour orientation after which we were set out on our own! That became a 23-year endeavor of learning the ins and outs of therapy dog work with many—but not all—of our dogs becoming certified therapy dogs and accompanying us to hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, and schools to bring joy and comfort to others. Had I had Prep School to enroll in, I believe I would have had a huge advantage from the beginning. But the nice thing about Therapy Dog Prep School is that all of our instructors and volunteers involved in this activity have learned a lot over the years, so they can help you on your own journey. We hope to see you soon!

Eileen Heveron
Therapy Dog Prep School Instructor