A therapy pet can come in all shapes in sizes, including dogs, cats and even bunnies. However, a therapy pet must be well-trained and love spending time with people. To determine which animals are appropriate for this, most therapy organizations have their own versions of a therapy test the pet must pass before interacting with people.
Basic Testing for Dogs
Most of the tests are designed to test dogs specifically, because the majority of therapy pets are dogs. The basic skills test usually tests your dog's basic obedience skills. Though the exact requirements of each test varies, most of them require the same skills demonstrated in some way.
Your dog must first demonstrate friendliness with people by allowing a stranger to approach and shake hands with his owner, and then approach to pet him without jumping or nipping. The dog must be groomed by the evaluator and demonstrate that he understands "Sit," "Down," "Come" and "Stay" on command.
The dog must demonstrate polite leash skills by going out for a walk and walking through a crowd of people. Though your dog can show interest in people, he can't jump or nip. He also must politely respond to distractions such as loud noises and joggers.
The final and often most difficult test is the reaction to a neutral dog. Your dog must walk politely past another dog and sit at your side while you shake hands with the owner of the other dog.
Basic Testing for Small Animals
Cats and bunnies don't have to do actions on command, but they still must demonstrate that they have basic obedience skills and an affinity for strangers. To test this, the evaluator will still approach you to shake your hand and pet your animal. You also may have to walk him through a crowd of people, even if he is cradled in your arms. Your animal will have to respond calmly to the same noise and moving distractions that your dog faced. However, instead of testing your animals with other dogs and making them walk on a leash, small animals are usually tested by being asked to stay on a table for a 30 seconds or so and by being passed to two or three strangers on whose laps they must sit calmly.
Advanced Testing for All Animals
While the basic testing varies little among organizations, each may have different requirements for the advanced testing. All animals must show they can tolerate these tests, since they very well may experience them in therapy situations.
Advanced testing usually includes:
- Tolerating clumsy petting or handling
- Remaining calm during angry yelling
- Being approached by someone who is staggering, limping or using crutches
- Restraining during a hug
- Being bumped from behind
- Being petted by several people at a time
- Leaving human food or other treats
- Accepting a treat without biting
These tests also test the animal's handler: you. You are scored on your ability to control the people dealing with your animal and to guide them in appropriately interacting with him. You are also scored on how easily you work with your animal.
If you and your pet pass these skills, you are ready to begin therapy work: visiting hospitals, convalescent homes, group homes, libraries and other organizations. This can be a very rewarding bonding experience between you and your therapy pet.