How to Build Confidence in Therapy Dog Teams

by | May 28, 2023 | Blog

Learn how to build confidence in Therapy Dog teams.

Therapy dog teams inspire many with their grace and poise, but these qualities don’t emerge overnight. Building confidence, both as a handler and in your dog, is a process. Let’s walk through why confidence is crucial and practical steps you can take to nurture it.

Why Confidence is Key for Therapy Dog Teams

Confidence is an important life skill for successful Therapy Dog visits. When you’re a confident handler navigating through a crowded hospital or a busy school, you ensure a smoother and more effective therapy session. Your confidence also communicates trust and openness to those you’re serving, fostering deeper connections. Most importantly, it empowers you to communicate effectively with your dog, setting clear expectations and strengthening your relationship.

For dogs, confidence allows them to thrive in their role as Therapy Dogs. A confident dog can maintain calm amidst the chaos, offering a peaceful presence to those they interact with. Confident dogs are also more responsive to their handler’s cues, enabling them to perform their tasks more effectively.

So, how can you and your dog become more confident?

Building Your Confidence as a Handler

Building your confidence takes time, self-awareness, learning, and practice. Here are three steps to get started:

  1. Think Back: Remember times when you felt unsure during a therapy visit. Knowing when you felt unsure can help you improve.
  2. Learn: Find out more about how to handle tough situations. You can learn from other handlers, workshops, or resources like the Therapy Dog Talk Podcast. For example, Kenzie talked in Episode 40 about how agility training and hiking helped her dong Kopa to feel more confident.
  3. Practice: Keep trying the things you’ve learned. Do it in a quiet place first, then try it during therapy visits.

You can also try out mind-body techniques like the power pose we talked about in a recent carousel post. Standing tall for two minutes can make you feel more confident. Try it before a training session or therapy visit.

Make it work for you. If standing tall doesn’t help you feel more confident, find a different pose that does.

Building Your Dog’s Confidence

Building your dog’s confidence takes patience, positive experiences, and training. Here’s how you can help your dog become more sure of themselves:

  1. Start Small: Bring your dog to calm places first. Then, slowly introduce them to busier ones. If calm places are too much for your dog, make their world even smaller by working on optimism and novelty through games-based training at home.
  2. Be Positive: Let your dog know they’re doing a good job when they handle new or busy places well. You can do this with treats, kind words, or a fun toy.
  3. Be Patient: Every dog learns at their own speed. Stay patient and kind with your dog as they learn.

Teaching your dog ‘power poses’ can also help. Find an action your dog likes doing – like giving a high five. Practice this action in different places to help them feel more sure of themselves.

Remember Lindsay from Episode 46 of Therapy Dog Talk? She helped her dog Tucker to build confidence in his new environment by taking him to sniff around their school during off hours. You can look for similar ways to help your dog feel more confident in environments you plan to visit.

Confidence is Part of the Puzzle

Being confident is an important life skill for Therapy Dog teams. You and your dog also need to be calm, resilient, and balanced by setting boundaries and practicing self-care.

Are you ready to learn more about these skills? Then my course, “Life Skills for Therapy Dog Teams,” is perfect for you. This course will help you and your dog to grow in your relationship and be even more effective in therapy visits.

Don’t miss this chance to make your Therapy Dog skills even better. Enroll now at sherrierohde.com/course!

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