Animal Therapy Dog

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The Clueless
Jul 1, 2011
Billings, Montana
Since I've had a sudden change in career interest due to the high possiblity of me having an autoimmune illness such as Multiple Sclerosis and being unable to pull the long hours of a vet, I've decided to make my own profession from a moosh of careers. I'd like to do animal therapy, rehabilitate animals from abuse situations/fighting/etc, behavioral studies, and public speaking against animal cruely.

Anyway, does anyone have any advice on a dog breed that think would be a good therapy dog? I know that all dogs have individual personalities, but I should probably start with a breed that is relatively easy, as I have never personally trained a dog other than running around the backyard with Knnick whooping in my undies when I was wee. I adore large to gigantic dogs, and would like one that is capable of "protection", since I will probably be alone most of my college career.

All in all, just suggestions for a good dog breed for a beginner dog trainer who wants to help both people and animals in her lifetime. :) Thank you!
I'm not sure if there is necessarily a good "breed" to go for, but look for a dog who has been in a childless home, such as a dog who has lost their owner. They're usually the ones you end up seeing as therapy dogs. It's very expensive to get them certified as therapy dogs, though.
My mother has a British Lab (not American lab a.k.a Marley lol) and she is a wonderful therapy dog. My mother trained her and did the therapy dog testing and now they volunteer at Mayo and visit patients randomly throughout the week. :)
I plan on adopting from a shelter, probably starting with a dog at least two years old. I personally don't care about breed, I will probably go with the personality and if they're smarter than me, but I know that certain breeds can probably never be in a therapy dog situation. Thank you for your input :)
Shelter or craigslist is the way to go :) My mother got her dog off craigslist as a 3.5 year old. The family had just decided they didn't want three dogs anymore so they were getting rid of the "biggest" one. :( Poor girl had gotten barely any attention and was mainly kept in her dog kennel for 3.5 years :(
Rescuing a dog (or any animal) is one of the most wonderful things a person can do! Good luck finding your new doggie partner!!!
So far I have my eye on a lovely 3 year old male German Shepherd at our local shelter, he caught my attention when he just sat up and smiled at me instead of shrieking and leaping at the bars like all of the others. He's a BIG boy though, I'll have to see if I can handle him. Now to convince my animal-hating mother ;) And thank you!
Smart and eager to please are 2 different things. German Shepherds are very smart dogs but they are generally one person or one family animals. They also aren't very eager to please. Very very very smart but you will have to be a very strict trainer.

The GS at the shelter sounds like he might not exhibit the typical GS personality so he might be a good candidate. You also don't know his history and what his triggers are if he has any. With a dog that size and you being new to training I would be hesitant.

Beagles, labs, and bully breeds are very people oriented and are generally good candidates for therapy dogs. If you are rescuing you'll probably get a mix and standard breed personality may not apply. In that instance, look for the dog that loves people.
i personally love my 2 labs. i adopted them from my place of work. the first one, Kassie, was not doing well she would shut down in new situations, she was crazy in the kennel. i worked with her every day and she was so dependent on me that everyone asked when i was going to take her home. finally after 2 years (i worked with her from an 8 week old pup) i brought her home. she was not a typical lab. she needed a LOT of praise and reassurance. i had her for a year and then "morri" was born. he was a physically abnormal pup, nothing major, they called his a swimmer pup because he had a flat chest and his front legs were more flexible than normal. we did therapy with him as we socialized the litter from day one. he grew out of it and is a normal dog now. i adopted him when he was 4 months old in hopes of bringing the 'dog personality' back in to Kass and it worked! she would acknowledge other dogs and play/chase/go crazy with morri and slowly working on playing with other dogs too. i really think labs are awesome. mine really seem to know how im feeling and just know what to do to make me feel better when im sad. i will admit they were very frustrating in the beginning but puppy hood and house training a 2yo lab was very difficult, but well worth it now. (i also have a chihuahua, she was raised with 3 cats and acts just like them. but she still have big dog syndrome also. she rules the roost and the labs play along with it!

i would eventually like to make Kassie and Morrison in to certified therapy dogs. but i just need to find the time to work with them and prepare them for the test!
I would have to go with a pit bull. As far as being eager to please AND incredibly smart, the APBT is excellent. I have been volunteering at the city animal shelter a few times a week for almost two years now, and the shelter is 98% pit bulls and pit bull mixes. I can tell you, that I have NEVER been loved on so much by any other dogs I have met. They absolutely adore people, and are very smart and learn quickly. There are many pit bull therapy dogs out there. Now, every dog is an individual, but in general I think they'd be an excellent choice. I can't really offer anything on any other breeds, however, because I have really only ever worked with pit bulls, lol.
If at all interested in doing therapy work with the bully breeds think about contacting patch o pits. She is a breeder and most of her dogs are therapy dogs. She is extremely kind and would more then likely be willing to talk to you and give you ideas and info. It would be a good starting point :)

The nursing home my grandmother is in has a yorkie, poodle, and three rescued pit bulls that come frequency to visit. I don't know if there are anymore but that's who I have seen so far!
...but I know that certain breeds can probably never be in a therapy dog situation.

I didn't catch this the first time through. Can I ask why? I have read about therapy dogs from MANY different breeds. Everything from the unfairly demonized Rotties, Shepherds, Chows, and 'Pit Bulls' to high drive Border Collies and Jack Russel Terriers being therapy dogs. And, of course, you always hear of Labs, Goldens, toy breeds, etc. I honestly can't think of any breed that I'd say could not become a therapy dog with the right personality and proper training.

And I'd have to second Megan on contacting Patch O' Pits! :))
The breed has nothing to do with whether the dog will be good at the job you want it to have. I know at least one Great Dane that's a therapy dog (his human has seizures and needs someone big enough to help her get up/protect her from falls). I know a 4 pound apple head Chihuahua that goes to nursing homes (does esp. well w/ bedridden or paralyzed patients b/c she's so teeny). The willingness to please and ability to learn are the important parts, not the breed.

If I were in your shoes (and I'm sorry to hear that your career plans have to change for that reason), I'd find someone local to you that already trains therapy dogs and get his/her input and help selecting your first dog. Some dogs are just born for some jobs, and yes, their breed history can help with that in many ways. But, just like Marley v all of the American bred Labradors in the world, there are exceptions. Guide Dogs of America uses American bred Labs, Goldens, and German Shepherds, but they've also got a network of people training and raising them, and a waiting list of people who want to adopt the "failures" that are born with the wrong personality and temperament for the serious job of assisting a human. Many of those dogs go on to do agility competitions, or simply hold down sofa pillows and fetch tennis balls, while their siblings from the same litter work 24/7. If the breed were the only thing necessary to make a dog be good at therapy or assistance, they wouldn't need those adoptive homes for the equally amazing animals that are too shy/too hyper/easily bored for assistance training.
I know that Labs are typically a breed that make great therapy dogs, but at the special needs school I work at we have three therapy dogs, one is a Lab, one is a Shi tzu, and one is a pit bull mix. The kids love all of them, but the Lab actually bit one of the students last week! So you never know, it just depends on the dog's temperament.

I think that the kids like the small dogs because they are able to hold them and have them sit in their lap, but they also love the Lab because he is a little more tame and more fun to play catch with and such. Personally I think I would go with a larger dog because they are less hyper and are sometimes more loyal to commands/training. I don't know if my post is helpful, but thought I'd share. Good luck!
My family trained therapy dogs for many years. They've used all types of dogs, but the most successful have been Golden Retrievers and, depending on what you're doing with them, German Shepards. Germans are meant to work, and once the service vest is on them they turn into completely different dogs. Golden Retrievers have a great demeanor and loyalty, and also work really well. People love them because in their down time, they're a great family dog and companion. The problem is, you're not too likely to find Golden's in shelters. Mutts of the lab/retriever/border collie variety are more likely to be found in shelters and have been excellent service dogs. Standard Poodles are good too because of their intelligence, but I HIGHLY doubt you will find one in a shelter and they have an extremely high energy level, so they're not right for every family.

I firmly believe that any breed can be a great therapy dog. It's all in the training and the personality of the dog! One of the best ones we ever had was a Bull Mastiff/Pit cross but she was one of a kind and we never found another like her. The biggest issue we had with the Pitt/Mastiff/Bull/Boxer/Rotti type breeds was that people didn't want them. I know its a misunderstanding in the animal, but the media definitely brings negative attention to these breeds and then people aren't willing to take the chance with them so we stopped working with them. Its not fair to the dog to spend all this time training them and then never have them work, its just disappointment. I also know that this can be a demographic you should feel out your community to see if there would be an interest before you started training them.

I would start off with a Lab/Retriever/Border Collie type mix and then test the waters of your area to see if there is an interest in other breeds...thats really the only way to know what to train.

And, of course, find a mentor who does the same thing and can help you learn what to do and how to do it. :) Good Luck!
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The problem is, you're not too likely to find Golden's in shelters. [...] Standard Poodles are good too because of their intelligence, but I HIGHLY doubt you will find one in a shelter and they have an extremely high energy level, so they're not right for every family.

That brings up another avenue: Breed Specific Rescues. A lot of purebreds that go to shelters get pulled and placed w/ a rescue that does Just Goldens or Just Poodles (we did a lot w/ Rottweiler specific rescues when I volunteered in college). A dog (I always start to type that word g-o-d :wacko:) that has a strong drive to work/serve won't always make a good family pet, so there's a chance of getting a dog with the right temperament from one of those where you would have a tougher search in a physical shelter.
Just FYI some locations will not permit Pit Bulls and other "dangerous breeds" to be therapy dogs. I read of a Pit Bull that was certified and then not allowed to serve as a therapy dog in an area where pits are "banned"...what a shame since this dog was a GREAT dog! I just wouldn't risk getting a dog that is subject to breed specific legislation. In my experience goldens are pretty good for training...but it really just depends on the dog. Good luck!
I believe you are seeing this less and less. With proper documation people are having less issues. It goes against the rights of the disabled. For instance denver had pit bulls banned but will now allow service pit bulls. It was over turned in court.

Obviously local laws need to be checked, but the good news is people are constantly helping to change the laws.
Thank you all for your input! I won't be able to begin therapy anytime in the next few moneths, but I've started volunteering at a local shelter, to get to know different types of dogs and help out the ones I can't save myself. So far, the friendliest dogs BY FAR are the "Bad breeds", like you all say, Rotts, Pits, Boxers, etc. There's a 110 lb Rott/Mastiff mix that is the gentlest guy I've known. ;) I will keep a lookout and start trying to find a mentor. I live in the Wild Western area of Montana, where Pit Bulls and other "fighting" dogs are allowed (with an insurance boost, yuck) and I definitely agree that they are sweethearts.
She does look great! Unfortunately I'm pretty far away, they'd probably prefer someone in at least a nearby state :) Thank you for showing me though