Pet Therapy Teams


Interested in bringing smiles to some lonely faces? Well donít look any further! If you are willing to share your dog with others, bring happiness to residents of nursing homes, hospitals, and children with special needs read on.

Since most people wanting to get started have so many questions. I hope that in this article we can answer most of these questions and help you get started today.


Soft cuddly fur, a wet nose, a lick, a tail wag, an outstretched paw or a gentle nudge. These are things we pure bred dog owners experience every day, and perhaps even take for granted. But for thousands of nursing home residents, and special-care children a visit from a pet therapy dog can change a personís outlook from gloomy to cheerful. Sharing this love goes far. It prompts a resident to recall fond memories, encourages calmness and lowers blood pressure. Plus brings a smile to so many faces.

Lucy, a 6 year old and Coco, an 11 year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever know all about unconditional love. Between shows and hunt tests they visit at the New Jersey Veterans Home. Iíve found for Lucy it relaxes her after a long show circuit to make these visits. For Coco being a veteran dog she looks forward to the visits. As much as the residents enjoy the love they give, the dogs receive in return lots of love, a scratch behind the ears, a good back rub, and sometimes special treats.

When we walk through the door of a nursing home or a hospital, I sense the excitement in the Chessies. Likewise, many residents are waiting anxiously in the lobby. There is a big cheer as they enter the building. Lucy goes over and puts her head in a residents lap, while Coco goes into a circus act of sitting up begging and barking. Everyone breaks out into a good laugh. Residents of the Veterans Home love to tell us stories about the "good old days" when they had a dog, worked with a K-9 unit during the war or grew up on a farm.

Chesapeakes have a keen sense of knowing who needs them. While working with Lucy in an Alzheimerís unit, I was warned that one of the male residents was having violent outburst. I proceeded with caution, but Lucy was pulling towards him. The man was calm for a moment, we werenít sure if he was focusing on Lucy. Lucy made her presence known by licking his hand. He smiled. The therapist was amazed by the man Ďs gentle petting. On our next visit according to the therapist, the man was calm for the balance of the day.

Coco who specializes in children at a local hospital would bring smiles to all the children. Just the look on their faces "wow a dog in a hospital" would bring smiles. The children get so excited, love to give her a treat, play ball with her, brush her, or just cuddle.

On many occasions we get to meet family members. They are so grateful for our visits, and canít thank us enough. They tell us of how their family member will talk about the dog that came to visit. Itís these heartfelt moments that make working with therapy dogs so rewarding.

Show dogs are well-behaved, outgoing, and are very people oriented. These traits, coupled with basic obedience training and comfort around medical equipment, are all that is required for pet therapy work. Dogs must be reliable, controllable, and predictable. Taking the Canine good Citizen Test is an excellent way to see if your dog is qualified for Pet Therapy Programs.

Another excellent idea is to hold your clubs annual Match Show on the grounds of a facility. It is a wonderful way to bring a fun activity to the residents. Family members can enjoy a visit with their relative while watching the show. They especially enjoy the obedience and agility rings.

If both you and your dog are outgoing, love people, and can spare a few hours once a month, you should consider getting involved. Start bringing joy and love to people by visiting with your dog today. Programs are set up throughout the United States by dedicated volunteers. Workshops and seminars are also available now in most areas.

Most people want to know if their dog is suitable. You should ask yourself it your dog has the following traits:

  1. Confident Healthy
  2. Out Going Good Temperament
  3. Love People More Than Other Dogs Reliable
  4. Likes to be Petted and Touched Controllable
  5. Predictable Can Handle Stress

These are the basic traits that your dog should have. Certain populations can be more stressful to visit than others, so please keep that in mind when asking where you would like to visit with your dog.  Back to top

What is expected of the handler? 
The first thing you should ask yourself is do you have the time to make this commitment. Do not jump into visiting every week with your dog. They can be very stressful to both you and your dog. Start slowly with once a month and keep your visits within an hour of your home. This will avoid stress and burnout. The reason most teams dropout of doing therapy dog work is burnout. Start slowly. If this is working, then visit twice a month.

Be on time and prepared. If you cannot keep an appointment, be sure to call either the day before or first thing in the morning. Most facilities will be putting you on their calendar and the residents will be expecting you. Give the facility ample time to reschedule or advise the residents that you are coming another day.  Back to top

How old should my dog be? 
Dogs must be a year old in order to be registered with any of the therapy dog organizations.  Back to top 

Can I visit with a puppy? 
Visiting with puppies can be a wonderful experience. However, evaluate each puppy to see if it is suitable for visitation. Some puppies can nip, jump on people, get easily stressed, or not be housebroken. It depends on the individual puppy and handler.  Back to top

What level of obedience training is required? 
Dogs should have some beginner obedience, be under total voice command They will be required to pass the American Kennel Clubs Canine Good Citizen Test modified for therapy dogs. Your dog doesnít need a UD to be a therapy dog, but it will need good manners. They will need to know that they cannot jump on people or beds, bark excessively, pull the handler on a leash. Some dog obedience schools now offer a special Therapy Dog Training Class, if this is not available, a Beginners and Novice Class should be all you need.  Back to top

Is a female or male make a better therapy dog? 
This does not matter, it is up to the individual dog and if they have the above mentioned traits. With males you should teach them to eliminate on command so that they do not have any territorial marking while visiting. Do not bring females in season on visits.  Back to top

Does my dog need to know tricks? 
Even though knowing tricks can be helpful it is not necessary. In fact, Cheapeakes being retrievers are wonderful. They can catch a tennis ball that a resident throws, play find it with a toy, or carry a basket. Use your imaginable and the things you can do on a visit are endless. I sometimes amuse young children with their chairs. I line them up in a row, place the dog on a sit, then ask the children to count to three with me and yell "Coco Over". It gets the children to participate. Anytime you are going to do jumping or tricks, please check and make sure that your dog has solid footing to avoid the dog getting hurt or the residents.  Back to top

Should I visit on my own or with a group?  
Visits can be either done individually or with a local group if there is one. This would depend on your area and when you are available to visit. It is recommended, if possible, to visit with an experienced team for the first several visits. In this way you can learn what is expected of you and your dog on a visit. If this is not available, have a staff member or the Activities Director go around with you on your first several visits. Going around with a staff member will allow you to see how the facility works, learn the facility, and give you some insight to each of the residents.  Back to top

Should I join and register my dog with a therapy dog organization? 
Absolutely! These organizations ensure that your pet has the skills and aptitude for working in healthcare settings. They give you creditable when contacting a facility to visit. You will receive an identification badge, a tag for your dog, liability insurance, and networking. It is up to you which therapy dog organization to register with.  Back to top

What does my dog have to do for the test? 
Both of the organizations listed in this article use a modified version of the American Kennel Clubs Canine Good Citizen Test. A copy can be obtained from the AKC. This test is to determine and demonstrate confidence and control of the dog.  

  1. Accepting a Friendly Stranger
  2. Sitting Politely For Petting; Whole dog is examined and touched
  3. Appearance and Grooming
  4. Walk on a Loose Leash
  5. Walking Through a Therapy Crowd including Medical Equipment
  6. Sit, Down, and Stay on Voice Command
  7. Come When Called
  8. Reaction to Another Dog
  9. Reaction to Distractions
  10. Supervised Separation for 3 minutes

However, the Delta Society Pet Partners requires an additional test to see where and what type of population the dog is best suited to visit.  Back to top

How can I get in touch with these therapy dog organizations? 
There are several quality organizations to join:

Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs
80 Powder Mill Rd
Morris Plains, NJ 07950
Email: Website:

Pets and People: Companions in Therapy and Service
P O Box 4266
Meridian, Miss 39307

Therapy Dogs International
88 Bartley Road, Flanders, NJ 07836
Telephone (973)252-9800 Fax (973)252-7171
email: Website:

Delta Society Pet Partners
289 Perimeter Road East, Renton, Wa 98055-1329
Telephone (800)869-6898 (206)226-7357 Fax (206)235-1076
email: Website:

All of the above organizations have different requirements. Please write or call them for information.  Back to top

What do I do after I am registered? How do I get started? 
Once you have registered with one of the above organizations and have received your credentials, you are ready to get started. If there is a local chapter in your area, get in touch with them for a list of facilities they are currently visiting. If you have in mind a facility you would like to visit, contact them and ask for the Activities Director, Recreational Therapist, or Volunteer Director. Different facilities have their pet therapy program fall under different departments. Offer to meet one on one with the director to discuss both of your goals and expectations. If there is currently a pet therapy program in process, contact the person in charge of the visits and observe several. Be sure that the facility has in mind the best interest of the residents, your dogs, and yourself.

If you are interested, start today. It is a wonderful and rewarding experience.
Joanne Silver
412 Woodbury Drive, Wyckoff,NJ 07481

copywritten  Back to top


Volunteering and Giving Back at World Trade Center

We have all been affected by the World Trade Center and September 11th. Volunteering where one can and giving back for many have been a very gratifying experience.

Besides the Search and Rescue dogs, the Pet Therapy Organizations and their teams have been busy at work since September 11th.

On Sunday October 28th we had an opportunity to be at Liberty State Park. Usually my remembrance of Liberty State Park were bringing out of town visitors and Palisades Kennel Club Dog Show. However, on this day we were there for the families and the volunteers.

The Memorial Service was held at Ground Zero this day. After the service at Ground Zero the families returned to Liberty State Park or 94th St Pier.

As the families waited for their turn to receive their Urns and Flags, the Red Cross served dinner for "thousands". The dogs were there to comfort the families and their children.

Between the tears there is always a heart warming story and I just had to share this one with you. This day I was working Lucy, and she is a trooper even as the food was whipping by her and she wished for one meat ball to slip, she continued working. We met a lovely family with two young boys. I would say there were around 5 and 7 years old. Well they just feel in love with the dogs. Lucy was working the crowd for food and doing all her tricks. The boys had a wonderful time giving her treats as she did her favorite sit up and beg and give paw. Lucy also laid down for them so that they could hug and pet her. The family went to get their Urn and Flag and put the boys in the Children's Care Area. Lucy and I went into the other room to visit the people waiting.

About an hour later, the two boys came running towards us waving 2 stuffed animal dogs. The Children's Care Center gave each child a toy of their choice. They had been looking for Lucy to show her their new toys. The younger boy had a reddish brown dog he was hugging. He couldn't leave until he showed Lucy his toy and he wanted to ask my permission if it was ok to name his new stuffed dog Lucy. Well Lucy and I were flattered, that was such a compliment.

It is just nice to know that Lucy left such a wonderful impression on these young boys. I guess that this is what Pet Therapy is all about.

The day was a total success in Lucy's view. She managed a piece of chicken, two chocolate chip cookies, a whole bunch of dog treats, tons of hugs, and she chased the pigeons around Liberty State Park when I walked her. She is, after all, a Chesapeake and birds are birds no matter what the setting.

A state trooper who observed her performance said it was quite a sight when Lucy locked on a pigeon and pulled me across the parking lot. He was beginning to wonder if he would need to organize a human/dog rescue from the Hudson River when the bird stopped fooling around and got serious about flying. Once Lucy realized the bird was not a cripple that she could catch, she gave up. (Chesapeakes are renowned for perseverance but they are also smart enough to know when the cause is lost.)

We have all been affected by September 11. Not only was my country attacked but the worst attack happened almost in my back yard. For a middle-aged, slightly-out-of-shape woman, the options for retaliation against the bad guys are limited. Volunteering where we can has made me feel like I'm doing something to fight back."

The dogs of Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs that worked were all added to the New Jersey Veterinary Foundation's Animals Hall of Fame with a wonderful ceremony on April 13th. All the dogs received a Medallion and certificates. It was great to be honored and recognized.

Joanne Silver

Back to Top


Silvercreek Chesapeakes


Home of the All Purpose Chesapeakes

Copyright © 2005 Silvercreek CBR. All rights reserved.