Training A Therapy Dog

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From the outside, Gabe looks like an average dog. He knows commands such as sit, lie down, and stay, and likes to play with his toys. But the 1½ year old lab-shepherd mix is in the process of preparing to do something special. Owner, and Milford resident Debbie Slutz, is currently training Gabe to become a therapy dog. Unlike a guide dog, which helps assist those with visual impairments, a therapy dog helps to provide comfort and joy to people in places such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Slutz, who recently graduated from the University of Denver with her masters in social work and a certificate in animal-assisted social work, hopes to be able to use Gabe in future jobs because of the unique benefits he provides.

Slutz got Gabe this past June from Baypath Humane Society in Hopkinton. Initially interested in another dog, as soon as Slutz met Gabe, however, she had a feeling he'd be a great match.

One of the most important aspects of therapy dogs are their temperament since they need to be accustomed to meeting different people and being in different types of environments. So before deciding on Gabe, Slutz had both her older and younger brother interact with him. And Gabe passed that test with flying colors. Currently, Slutz is working on teaching Gabe basic commands such a heel. He is also learning important skills necessary for a therapy dog to have such as sitting in front of an open door and not eating food off the floor.

Gabe is also working on appropriate ways to interact with people, which Slutz says sometimes gets kind of tricky to enforce when meeting strangers who are often eager to pet him.

Slutz plans on using the Pet Partners program, formerly known as the Delta Society, to test Gabe. In order to be certified as a therapy dog, Gabe will need to demonstrate proficiency in the skills he has been busy learning.

Gabe will qualify to take the test in December. And Slutz says that even if he doesn't pass, she knows all the hard training will still be beneficial.

To see Slutz and Gabe in action and to learn more, watch the HCAM News video below.