Azul and Maverick went on their first official Therapy Dog visit at the Dickinson County Library. Both dogs are registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and about to start the Bow Wow Books program where kids can practice their reading skills by reading to the dogs.
I thought I'd take a moment to clear up some confusion about Service Dogs & Therapy Dogs, as both dogs are dual trained to do both jobs. Therapy Dogs must enjoy social experiences with strangers and be trained in basic manners that ensure they can conduct themselves safely. Service Dogs also most be trained in basic manners that ensure they can conduct themselves safely however they also must be task trained to provide assistance to disabled individuals. Not all Therapy Dogs are Service Dogs and not all Service Dogs are Therapy Dogs, but some dogs can do both roles.
Azul was trained as a Medical Alert Service Dog as his primary job. He does 3 types of medical alerts and a whole ton of response tasks including retrieval tasks and light mobility tasks. It was very apparent at a young age, that Azul loves children. By 8 months old, he was able to ignore people in public situations according to general Service Dog standards but we often visited with friendly people in outdooor environments. Being able to greet people with permission is a highlight is a highlight in his daily adventures. Therefore by the time Azul was 1 year old we started working toward becoming a Therapy Dog to provide him with an opportunity to have some fun.
Maverick on the other hand has been raised and trained for Therapy Dog work as his primary role working with his handler at a Child Advocacy Center. However as Maverick matured, he started alerting to his handler's medical conditions so we also started task training to become a Service Dog as well.
It's important to note that not all Therapy Dogs would make good Service Dogs and not all Service Dogs would make good Therapy Dogs. Each job has a specific skill set and training standard. But some dogs have the personality and skills to be able to manage both jobs at the same time.
It's also important to note that Therapy Dogs do not have access to public places such as Service Dogs. The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that disabled individuals shall be granted access to public places with their trained Service Dog. (There are a few exceptions to places that must all this access.) However Therapy Dogs are only allowed in non-pet friendly places when in invited by the owner, management, and/or staff. Health codes prohibit places that sell open food from inviting dogs into these areas, so restaurants and grocery stores can't invite a Therapy Dog into the store to go shopping with their handler. However hospitals, nursing homes, schools and libraries are not pet friendly establishments, but they can invite Therapy Dogs in to provide services to clients and/or staff.
The other important note of distinction between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs is who they are trained to help and how. Service Dogs, according to ADA, are there to support their handler by doing things that the handler can not do by themselves. Therapy Dogs on the other hand are there to support all the people around them in a specific situation. Often Therapy Dogs will visit hospitals and nursing homes to help spread cheer and uplift the spirits of those who might be in a stressful situation. Therapy Dogs often visit schools, libraries, and other places where they can do educational things such as reading programs, mentoring programs and animal welfare programs.
Both Service Dogs & Therapy Dogs need to have great manners in public environments and remain under their handler control at all times. Both dogs can be asked to leave any business if their behavior is not acceptable or gives an appearance of aggression or other safety concerns. Dogs are not robots and sometimes make mistakes such as sniffing items that are not theirs, moving in for a kiss, or other impulsive act. However it's the handler's responsibility for knowing their dog's weaknesses and taking appropriate measures to prevent these mistakes. For example, if young kids often get the dog excited the handler would ask their dog to sit or lay down before allowing the children to approach so the dog doesn't accidently know the child over. In both situations, handlers are responsible for the safety of their dog and ensuring the dog has acceptable manners for the environment they are working in.
If you'd like to learn more about Service Dogs, check out my SD Tips page.
If you'd like to learn more about Therapy Dogs, I suggest you visit the Alliance of Therapy Dogs website.