Everything you should know about therapy and service dogs

hand in paw
Both therapy dogs and service dogs make huge differences in people’s lives. Photo via Hand in Paw

There’s nothing cuter than a dog with a job, and the jobs therapy and servive dogs perform are of utmost importance. Keep reading to learn more about both therapy and service dogs in Birmingham and how you can get involved.

What is a therapy dog?

First up, therapy dogs. Therapy dogs bring comfort and happiness to people (and you can almost always pet them). While it takes a specially bred and raised dog to become a service dog, most dogs of any breeding can become a therapy animal.

Therapy dogs help humans in a number of ways. By simply petting them, the human body releases endorphins which eases stress and increases joy. 

Hear more from Brittney Sibly, Hand in Paw‘s Director of Communications about the benefits of therapy dogs.

“Therapy dogs bring joy and comfort to multiple people. They do not serve one person alone like service dogs do. We train our teams to visit people of all ages, from different walks of life.

We teach them how to make visits in therapeutic settings. We prepare them for all the different scenarios that they will encounter because we visit a variety of places, like schools and hospitals. We also teach them how to work with certain Hand in Paw programs, like Hnad in Paw Reads and our new Zoom programming.”

Brittney Sibly, Direct of Communications, Hand in Paw

What is a service dog?

Service dogs primarily help people complete daily life tasks. Some service dogs work with many kinds of peopel:

  • Deaf and blind
  • Veterans with PTSD
  • And other disabilities

Very importantly, while therapy dogs are trained to be touched in public settings, service dogs cannot be touched or petted while on duty.

What’s it like to train a service dog? Here’s what Christine McDonald, service dog puppy trainer from Canine Companions for Independence and K9s for Warriors had to say:

“As a service dog puppy trainer, you receive a puppy at eight weeks old. During this time, the puppy attends one puppy class, typically once a week where they are trained to understand 26 to 28 commands, basic socialization and other skills. 

At 18 months old, the dog then goes to dog college on the campus of the organization they will be working for. Each program does things a little different, but usually dogs complete six months more of training for advanced commands like opening doors, picking things up off the floor, pulling wheelchairs and retrieving objects. 

Once they finish dog college, the dog goes home with their forever person.”

Christine McDonald, service dog puppy trainer, Canine Companions for Independence and K9s for Warriors

Get Involved

If you’d like to get you and your furry friend trained to become a therapy dogs, check out Hand in Paw in Birmingham. The good news is that most dogs, after finishing a basic obedience course, can become therapy dogs.

If you’re looking for a more intense training program for dogs that help people, check out these two service dog training organizations nearby: Canine Companions for Independence and K9s for Warriors.

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