What Makes a Dog be a Good Therapy Dog?

When we adopted Gracie, we wondered if she’d make a good therapy dog – a dog that would walk calmly into a library filled with elementary school age kids all waiting to have a great interactive reading experience with her. Or perhaps, she’d be good with slightly older kids and adults. What do you think? Doesn’t she look like a happy, confident dog?

"female American Staffordshire terrier pit bull terrier"She is confident, when she’s in a place that she knows. Like our back yard. This is where we walked her, sat with her, and slowly began to play with her three months ago when we brought her home from a local animal shelter. Because she was really scared of new places.

This is also where she began to reveal herself.

She’s very observant. Quick to take inventory of what’s part of the back yard and then to mentally file away anything new.

She likes “her” people and is happiest when she’s with them.

She has to take her time getting to know you. Like my husband. Finally, after three months of quiet courtship on his part, Gracie doesn’t shake when she’s physically near him or startle if he moves unexpectedly. If what I’ve been told is typical of a pit bull terrier when they like you, she’s added him to her list of trusted humans: she nibbled on his fingers and arm yesterday.

She’s reserved with (human) strangers. She remembers her (human) friends.

She’s awesome with dogs!  If she wants to make friends, you’ll know from her body language that she’s friendly and playful. (Well, you may not know that but your dog will.) If your dog is being a brat, barking its head off and straining at its leash? She’ll ignore it. 

She’ll happy-chortle-talk when she’s at her best and wants to make a point. Or, she’ll snort.

She’s not happy walking into new places. You can see her start to pull inside of herself.

That doesn’t mean we don’t take her places. We do.

But we don’t overload her on new experiences.

We introduce her and then we go back for repeat visits. Sometimes, we take her by herself. Sometimes, we bring Tessa. Because, sometimes, adventures are more fun in pairs.

We started with the idea that getting Gracie certified with a CGC (Canine Good Citizen) certification would be a good goal.

We still like that idea. Because what we notice is that some people will cross the street when we’re out walking Gracie. They see  her but, they don’t really “see” her. Once she’s a CGC dog, they may still cross the street. Nothing we can do about that except do what we do best: help our dogs be the best they can be living happy lives as pets. Gracie doesn’t have to be a professional therapy dog – she does just fine offering the fullness of her heart to us.






  1. says

    I was planning on training our boxer mix to be a therapy dog because he’s very sweet-tempered and loving. He still might make it, but I think it will be when he’s old. He’s just a little too eager to play and actively engage for 10-15 minutes in a new situation before he settles down to his schlumpy, cuddly, attentive-but-calm self.

    BTW, I thought of you last night (my go-to dog expert.) Folks are still setting big fireworks off everyone in a while around her. Our boy is starting to get nervous about it. Wants to crawl up into a lap, or hide in the kitchen. I’m being jolly about it, and trying not to reinforce his fear. Any tips?
    Renae Rude – The Paranormalist recently posted…In search of the Linwood Wooly Beast: part IIMy Profile

    • Kathy says

      Fireworks. One of the few really loud noises that can affect dogs even when you’ve got them safely tucked away inside of your house. Have you considered using an anxiety wrap – sometimes called “thunder shirts?” When we started Tessa in dog obedience, and watched her completely freak out when she walked into the training room that first night of class, the instructor immediately suggested an anxiety wrap — which worked beautifully! Some people get similar, calming effects with a t-shirt that fits close to their dog’s body.

      Something you might want to research is Tellington Touch (T-touch). This is literally a “hands on” calming, behavior modality for all animals that you might enjoy learning about with your dog.


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