Facility dogs are a type of therapy dog. These pups work every day with their handler in a facility as a team, most of the time the handler is an employee of the facility and most of the time the owner of the animal. The dog’s job is to provide a calm presence. By being loving, calm, and gentle, dogs provide individual support to people in crisis, decreasing anxiety, and improve social skills.
Let’s face it: dogs are better than people. Many people, of differing abilities, enjoy spending time with dogs more than with people. Dogs are kind, funny, and excited, so spending time with them causes people to feel the same. Facility dogs brighten the days of the people they visit and people tend to be more enthusiastic about their therapy when they see a fluffy pup wagging their tail in encouragement. Besides dogs, other animals such as cats can also been known to be a “facility animal” but that is very different than a specifically trained dog or a mini horse that provides an animal assisted service.
Often, facility dogs are the pets of an empathetic individual who work daily at a facility and sees the benefit a trained therapy dog would bring to their organization. These individuals either bring their dogs to work with them or volunteer their time and are rewarded for their hard work when they see the joy their dogs bring to others. Canine Advocacy Program dogs are obtained through referrals only.
Often, therapy dogs are chosen for that job because they naturally enjoy meeting new people and getting attention. Many facility dogs are breeds that do not shed, such as poodles or small dogs that can easily be held in a lap or bed. Therapy dogs can be any breed, including mixed breed, as long as they are registered by a reputable organization, such as AKC, TDI, or Pet Partners. Our partner, Canine Advocacy Program, chooses Labrador and Golden Retrievers, bred by Leader Dogs for the Blind. These friendly, sensitive dogs can work with children testifying in court and their families going through hardships.
You train the dog. 1 FUR 1 strongly advises of positive reinforcement training methods and certification by a reputable organization, such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) or Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). Therapy dog training builds upon the skills and commands learned through the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. All dogs must be trained with positive reinforcement techniques. Through CCI‘s certification, a therapy dog in training can learn more than 40 commands. The handler must have control of the animal at all times. Handlers accomplish this by exposing their dogs to different environments and situations as much as possible.
You let them grow up. Since they will be around a lot of people, these pups need to be mature. A facility pup is a healthy pup. The dogs need to be clean, up to date on vaccines, well-groomed, and well-trained (click here to learn more). Therapy dogs typically start visits after they turn one year old, but can start training from the day they are adopted. Therapy dogs can work for years, depending on the desire of the dog. Dogs can be retired for a number of reasons, from health issues, to old age, to decreased energy levels, though many dogs continue to work at retirement homes.
We all appreciate it when others are nice to us. Training dogs using positive reinforcement makes training into a game for them. Positive reinforcement uses treats or other motivators to let your dog know when they are doing what you want them to do. The more they are trained with this method, the quicker they pick up new tricks. When I train my rescue terrier, I see his eyes light up while he tries out different behaviors. He is engaged, happy, and trusting. Positive reinforcement rewards dogs for being their great selves while ignoring their more troublesome tactics for getting our attention.