Training a therapy dog is a lot of work, said Abby Bird, owner of Alphadog Training Academy in Bluffton — and not all dogs are cut out for the job.
First, a dog has to pass the American Kennel Club’s 10-step Good Canine Citizens training course. It teaches the dog good manners at home and in the community. Tested skills the ability to ignore distractions like other people, other dogs and food.
A local program, Hos-Pets through Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, also offers a certification program that allows volunteers and their therapy dogs to visit assisted-living and memory care centers.
“The dog becomes a conduit of communication between humans. They’ll tell the volunteer about the dogs in their life,” Bird said.
Certifications from organizations such as Therapy Dogs International, Therapy Pets Unlimited, and Pet Partners also are recognized by schools and hospitals. Being accredited by these organizations can make it easier for you and your dog to volunteer in the community, Bird said.
During her 15 years as a dog trainer, Bird figures she’s trained about 8,000 dogs, including 250 as therapy dogs.
She volunteers, too, with her 8-year-old Newfoundland, Asia. “It’s part of my lifestyle,” she said.
One of Bird’s favorite local programs is PAWS to Read, where children read to dogs.
“It’s a relaxed atmosphere and it’s noncritical and nonjudgmental,” she said.