The Ins And Outs of Therapy Dog Testing


Our dream is becoming reality! Nugget and I are signed up for therapy dog testing and basic training in July. I am very excited about this process, but I realize that this is only the beginning of a very long journey. Nugget has come very far in his training, but from now on I will have to eat, sleep, and breathe training to get him prepared for our testing. (We will have fun times too) 🐶😬

In addition to Nugget’s two training classes per week, I am working diligently on training him at home. I have integrated a “Nothing in life is free” approach in our house. This is a good way for us to constantly incorporate training into daily life. Basically, anything Nugget wants he has to earn. If he wants to go out the front door, he has to wait patiently until I signal to him that it’s okay for him to cross the threshold. When I return home from work, I wait until he calms down and sits before I pet him. This one is so hard because he is so happy to see me! But I do give him lots of loving once he calms himself. Additionally, we are working very hard on our loose leash walking. He generally does well loose leash walking with his harness. However, I am also working on training him just using a collar. It takes a lot of patience. Every time he runs forward and starts pulling, I have to stop in place until he turns around and comes back to a heel position. Currently, I am bribing him with some good treats when needed. Fortunately, Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog testing now allows the use of most harnesses.

Loose leash walking!

The therapy dog testing requires Nugget to perform tasks that are very similar to the Canine Good Citizen test. To be able to start visiting approved facilities, Nugget will have to at least pass the basic level of testing. This means he passes all of the requirements, but he may need some assistance. He can be given a command up to three times. To be able to visit facilities with children, Nugget will have to pass the Advanced level of testing. This requires him to carry out every behavior on the first command.

For the first part of the therapy dog assessment, Nugget will have to do the following:

1) Accept a friendly stranger

2) Accept a stranger staring at him without showing anxiety or aggression

3) Sit at my side for a stranger to pet him

3) Have his ears, eyes, breath, and feet checked and be brushed

4) Walk on a loose leash (straight, right turn, left turn, about face, and stop)

5) Sit, down, and stay as I walk 20 feet away and back

6) Come when called from 10 feet away

7) Approach another pet team without Nugget engaging with them. He must sit by my side, and I am allowed to command him to sit before I greet the other team.

8) Leave a treat on the ground that I drop in front of him

9) Gently accept a treat from a stranger

The second part of the therapy dog assessment will test Nugget’s reaction to people in a crowd. He will have to do the following:

1) Accept someone staggering toward him. I am allowed to reassure and pet him during this.

2) Accept a loud, angry person. I am allowed to reassure and pet him during this.

3) Accept someone touching him from behind. I am allowed to reassure and pet him during this.

4) React to loud metal noise without showing fear or stress (He can be startled)

5) I have to act as an advocate for my pet and work to encourage him throughout this part of the testing.

6) Nugget is allowed to be startled during any part of this, but he has to be able to recover.

Lastly, Nugget and I will have to perform a 3 minute practice visit. I will have to be friendly and knowledgeable about the organization. Nugget will have to accept petting from multiple people and awkward handling. Nugget should be comfortable and interested in the client. Additionally, I always need to be an advocate for Nugget including foreseeing potential problem areas (another dog in the room, a vacuum cleaner, etc.). I can help him through the difficulty or remove him from the room if needed.

We definitely have our work cut out for us, but I feel very passionately about helping Nugget succeed. We have three months to work toward our goal! Wish us luck 🙂

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