Steps to Becoming a Good Dog Team
Pre-Screen Form and Evaluation
In order to ensure that your dog is ready to participate in a therapy class setting, we first require potential volunteers to complete an online pre-screen form, which will be reviewed by a Good Dog trainer. If you and your dog are viable therapy team candidates, a trainer will invite you to attend a brief in-person evaluation. During the in-person evaluation, the trainer will observe your dog’s obedience skills, temperament, sociability with humans and other dogs, relationship with its handler (that’s you – the human owner!) and handler suitability. After the evaluation, our trainer will determine if you and your dog are appropriate for our Therapy Skills class.
A Therapy Skills class session is six weeks, one hour per week, and costs $265. The cost reflects class instruction with a highly-skilled, professional trainer as well as visit coordination at Good Dog partner facilities once a human-dog team graduates and becomes certified. Therapy Skills class includes a review of obedience skills but focuses on education in therapy work and understanding how to operate in therapy environments, such as nursing homes and schools.
To be ready for Therapy Skills, dogs must have fairly solid basic obedience skills such as Sit, Stay, Down, and Leave It. Dogs must also walk politely on a loose leash on a flat collar or harness, and may not jump to greet people. Handlers must demonstrate control over their dog at all times. If your dog needs more work on obedience skills before applying to Good Dog, the following resource may be helpful in finding positive reinforcement training: https://apdt.com/
Certification and First Therapy Visit
Once you and your dog have successfully completed all six Therapy Skills training classes, your veterinarian has to clear your dog for work via a medical form. Upon submission of the veterinary medical form and a signed volunteer agreement, you and your dog will be certified to work as a Good Dog Team. During your initial visit you will be accompanied by a Good Dog trainer or staff member to a chosen Good Dog partner facility. The Good Dog representative is there to support you through your first therapy session. This ensures that you and your dog are comfortable and ready to operate on your own in a therapy environment.
Things to Consider
Good Dog welcomes all interested potential animal-assisted therapy teams to submit a pre-screen form. However, it is important to consider a few things before initiating the training process. If your dog displays the following behaviors, he/she may not yet be suitable for therapy work:
- Aggression toward humans
- Aggression toward dogs or other animals
- Marked signs of fearfulness or shyness
- Lack of house-training skills
- Uncontrollable hyperactivity (excessive barking, jumping, licking, pawing, etc.)
- Medical concerns (advanced age, fatigue, stiffness, excessive panting, signs of discomfort, etc.)
It is also important to remember the dog is only one half of a Good Dog team. We know our handlers love and respect their animals but the handler must be amenable and available for training and volunteering. The handler must not display any of the following behaviors:
- Rough or abusive handling of their dog
- Unwillingness to follow the Good Dog training schedule or trainer instruction
- Unwillingness to follow policies of our partner facilities
- Handlers must be at least 18 years old, and be legal owners or live with their dog.
- All dogs must be at least one year old.
- Dogs must have lived with their handlers for at least 4 months.
Good Dog re-certifies its therapy teams on an annual basis in order to best serve all those who benefit from our therapy work. Re-certification is also important in order to ensure compliance with state law and Good Dog policies, and enable our volunteers to receive continued liability insurance coverage while on visits. To be re-certified, Good Dog teams will be re-evaluated on obedience skills and temperament by a trainer and will submit an updated veterinary medical form.
For more information, please read our Frequently Asked Questions.