Best dog breeds for therapy

Published 6:09 am Wednesday, October 17, 2018


K9 Corner

A reader called asking what breed of dog makes the best therapy dog for visiting nursing homes and hospitals. I replied that nearly any breed or mix-breed can make a good therapy (loving heart type) dog that it is the personality and temperament that counts. She sounded sort of dubious when I said this, so I continued by stating that I knew handlers who certified their American pit bull terriers, Jack Russell terriers, Scottish terriers, as well as the calmer breeds such as golden retrievers and Shetland sheepdogs as therapy dogs. One woman had a Great Dane as a therapy dog! So size doesn’t matter.

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Or does size matter? I had a toy breed who at the age of two years still weighed only five pounds. I had hoped to use her as a therapy dog as soon as she was trained and certified, but I changed my mind. Although she was happy with people and considered herself a big girl, she was really a fragile little creature. A blind or spastic person might accidentally catch one of her legs and she would scream loudly when she thought she might be hurt.

That would unnerve any patient or resident, who certainly would think he or she had hurt the little dog when usually it would be just a warning scream. There are individuals of larger breeds who are sensitive to touch, but the majority of larger dogs who have been properly socialized seem to realize when a firm grasp is accidental or deliberate. These dogs will ignore an accidentally firm grip and will remove themselves from the person’s reach one they are released.

I was talking to another trainer the other day and we were discussing all the different jobs dogs are being used for and the fact that many of these dogs are owned by people who volunteer their time to train their dogs and continue practicing so they can leave their regular jobs and help out in an emergency. In some cases the trained dog is not a hobby but part of the regular job.

For example, there are dogs, mainly beagles, trained to sniff out agricultural products coming in illegally usually in travelers’ suitcases. Then there are the bomb sniffing and drug detection dogs. These handlers do not need an alternate job; they have a full time job as it is. Police and military personnel who work in the K-9 units also have full time employment.

But the dogs used in the World Trade Center area were most often handled by volunteers who left their routine work to help. Some of these were search and rescue dogs, but a number of them were therapy (loving heart type) dogs who proved essential for the comfort of the human rescuers who were often overwhelmed at the extent of the destruction as well as the smell and the heat from the underground fires.