As a therapy dog handler, it’s essential to be prepared for each visit. With the right items in your bag, you and your therapy dog can have a successful and enjoyable experience. This comprehensive guide will help you pack everything you need for a successful therapy visit while also discussing other important considerations.
How to Prepare for a Therapy Dog Visit
Preparing for a therapy dog visit involves more than just packing a bag. Here are a few tips to help you and your dog get ready for a visit:
- Membership: Make sure you and your therapy dog are registered members of a recognized therapy dog organization, such as the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) or Pet Partners. This shows that your dog has met the necessary training and temperament requirements to be a therapy dog.
- Dress code: Follow the dress code set by your therapy dog organization. This often includes wearing an organization-issued ID badge and appropriate attire for the visit. Dressing professionally helps create a positive impression and makes patients feel more at ease during the visit.
- Get your dog used to wearing a bandana or vest: This helps them feel comfortable and confident during visits.
- Practice basic obedience cues: Such as “come,” “sit,” “stay” and “leave it.” This helps keep your dog safe during visits.
- Socialize your dog: Make sure your dog is comfortable with different environments and people. This can be achieved through socialization and exposure to different types of environments.
- Exercise your dog before a visit: This helps them release energy and be more relaxed during visits.
- Liability insurance: Ensure that you have liability insurance coverage through your therapy dog organization. This provides protection in case of any incidents or accidents during therapy dog visits.
When packing for a therapy dog visit, there are some items that are recommended to bring along. Your list of items might vary depending on your needs, your dog’s needs, and the type of visit that you go on. Here are the recommended items:
- Leash and collar/harness: Essential for keeping your dog safe and under control.
- Bandana or vest: A bandana or vest is a great way to identify your dog as a therapy dog.
- Waste bags: Always bring extra waste bags to clean up after your dog during visits.
- Cleaning wipes: Accidents and spills happen, so it’s always good to have some cleaning wipes on hand.
- Health records: Bring your dog’s health records to show proof of their vaccinations and overall health status.
- Identification: Bring badges from your organization or facility to identify you and your dog as a therapy dog team.
- Treats: Treats are a great way to reward your dog for good behavior and keep their attention, but only bring them if your organization and the facility allow them. Be aware of common allergens.
- Portable water dish: Your dog will need water during visits, so bring a portable water dish.
- First Aid Kit: It’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand for both you and your dog in case of any accidents.
Other Helpful Items
While these items aren’t essential, they can make your therapy dog visits more enjoyable and comfortable:
- Treat pouch: A treat pouch makes it easy to access treats during visits (if treats are allowed).
- Blanket or mat: A blanket or mat gives your dog a place to settle during visits.
- Books, coloring pages, and toys: These items provide entertainment and create a connection during visits, especially with children or patients who may need additional engagement. Heather shares great ideas for books in Episode 79.
- Grooming tools: Keep your dog looking their best, have a lint roller on hand and utilize a brush as an opportunity to help your dog connect on your visits.
- Polaroid camera, trading cards, bookmarks and stickers: These items provide a keepsake for those you visit. It’s like leaving a little piece of your dog’s love behind. Charlene shares other keepsake ideas in Episode 30.
- Hand sanitizer: Maintaining hygiene during visits is important, so bring hand sanitizer.
- Protective equipment: Protect your dog’s skin, eyes, and paws on outdoor visits with sunscreen, Rex Specs, and dog shoes. We talk about outdoor protective gear with Holden, Kim and Lena on Therapy Dog Talk.
Remember, you don’t need to bring everything on this list, and you don’t want your bag to be cumbersome or in the way during visits. A medium-sized, lightweight backpack or shoulder bag with multiple compartments and pockets would be helpful for organizing the essentials. Look for a bag made of easy-to-clean, durable material to withstand the wear and tear of regular therapy dog visits.
Therapy Dog Visit Considerations
Being prepared for various scenarios can help ensure a successful therapy dog visit. Here are some key points to consider:
- Patient Behavior: While most patients show love, care, and respect for therapy dogs, some may exhibit unpredictable or harmful behavior. As a handler, it’s important to be prepared for these situations and to protect your dog. If a patient is handling your dog inappropriately, gently assert that they should be more gentle and, if necessary, demonstrate how to interact with your dog properly. If the patient cannot treat your dog with respect and care, you may need to remove your dog from the situation calmly.
- Dog Behavior: Even well-trained therapy dogs can sometimes exhibit unpredictable behavior. As a handler, it’s important to be prepared to address these situations and keep your dog calm. If your dog encounters other pets during visits, follow your therapy dog organization’s guidelines for maintaining a safe distance and preventing confrontations. Be prepared to end a visit if necessary to protect your dog’s well-being.
- Toilet and Food Breaks: Ensure your dog has regular breaks to use the bathroom, drink water, and eat if needed. While it’s easy to get caught up in the joy your dog brings to patients, always remember your dog’s needs to ensure their comfort during visits.
- Hygiene: Maintaining good hygiene is crucial for therapy dogs, as some patients may have weakened immune systems. Always ensure your dog is clean and well-groomed before visits. If your dog goes outside during a visit, make sure they are clean before returning to interact with patients.
A successful therapy dog visit relies on the handler’s preparation, the dog’s training, and the ability to navigate different scenarios that may arise. By being mindful of both the patient’s and dog’s needs and packing the appropriate items for each visit, you can ensure a positive and rewarding experience for everyone involved. Stay flexible, communicate with the facility and your therapy dog organization, and continue to learn and grow as a handler. The right preparation and a well-organized bag will go a long way in helping you and your therapy dog make a meaningful difference in the lives of those you visit.