Q: What can dogs do?
A: The most obvious benefits of having a dog in our life is that of companionship, succor, entertainment, laughter, forgiveness, esteem, devotion, and, most importantly, abundant and unconditional love. Not surprisingly, the earliest connections people form with their dogs are often the longest and strongest relationships in their lives. Dogs become our soulmates, best friends, and even our surrogate children.
In recent years, scientists all over the world have been investigating and proving the medical benefits to the canine-human relationship. Studies in the last 30 years have shown that just being in the presence of a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, slow heart rate, relax muscle tension, improve mood, facilitate communication and so much more. Dogs cannot only be trained to protect, hunt, retrieve and rescue, but also detect seizures, lead the blind and deaf, provide mobility to the disabled, perform tasks and detect cancer by smell. Scientific and anecdotal evidence all show that your dog might very well be thought of as Prozac on paws!
Q: What is the difference between a Service Assistance dog and a Therapy dog?
A: The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service assistance dogs as any guide dog, signal dog or other animal that is trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability and lives with them in their home. For example, some dogs are trained to guide those with vision problems or they accompany those in a wheelchair and are able to retrieve dropped articles, turn on light switches, carry things and pull doors open on cue. Others are referred to as “alert dogs ” because they have been specially trained to detect seizures or low blood sugar in a diabetic person or to alert to sounds of the telephone, oven timers, alarm clocks, smoke alarms, and even a baby’s cry. Service dogs are not considered pets. Their presence is required by the human in order to serve a skilled function throughout their day. That is why service dogs are legally allowed to enter public spaces to accompany their human.
A therapy dog is a pet dog who lives with his/her owner and visits people who benefit by the company of a dog and then they return home together. This dog has been evaluated and certified by a qualified person who represents a particular therapy organization and deemed “safe” and “under control,” so that the dog may visit facilities with their owner/handler to achieve specific physical, social, cognitive and emotional goals with patients. At DogAbility, our participating dogs — through a variety of organizations — have all gone through a specific, rigorous screening process to determine their suitability to be a therapy dog, including an assessment of each dog’s individual temperment, energy level, stress tolerance and reactivity to different people and environments to ensure their appropriate placement, as well as the safety of all parties involved.
Q: What types of dogs will I see at DogAbility?
A: Though not limited to any specific breed, size, or type of dog, we choose dogs with specific temperaments, sizes and energy levels to best fit our various activities. Dogs come to us to be qualified for the program and are evaluated by professional dog trainers and a veterinarian who are all part on our staff.
For Instance our Reading to Dogs activities, require dogs with calm, even temperaments, low to moderate energy and reactivity levels with a high stress tolerance. For our Canine Activity Therapy Teams, we prefer dogs with moderate to high stress tolerance, medium to higher energy and reactivity levels.
Q: How can I qualify my dog as a DogAbility dog?
A: Since DogAbility particpants range in age, ability and conditions, we must be selective in our choice of handlers and dogs. For instance, dogs that demonstrate issues with excessive barking, nervousness, timidity or aggression will not be suitable for our program. Handlers may lack confidence and skills as well. All the dogs in our program must also be registered with a therapy organization and demonstrate current membership. For those who are NOT already registered with a particular therapy dog organization, we offer our own training and qualifying sessions to satisfy requirments with LOAL – Love on a Leash. (www.loveonaleash.org.) The LOAL membership will allow you and your dog to not only particpate at DogAbility but you also are then able to visit anywhere else that therapy dogs are welcome. (Libraries, Senior Centers, Hospice, Hospitals etc.)
Once we have evaluated a particular dog and handler we then can assign them to specific activities based on their handler confidence and their dog’s size, age, energy and temperament. One canine team may be better suited for one activity more than another. Understand that although a dog may be a registered therapy dog, and is wonderful in therapy visits in hospitals or senior centers etc, that he/she may still not be suitable for any of our DogAbility activities with kids who “by nature” are unpredictable in their own energy and temperament levels.
Q: Do I handle my own therapy dog during sessions or does the staff take him from me?
A: All therapy dog member organizations require that the handler is to be with their dog at all times in order to be sure that the dog is enjoying the experience and to certainly manage his/her behavior.
Q: How will I know what to do with my dog during an activity?
A: All volunteers will be required to attend handler orientations for each activity. You will understand you and your dogs role during each activity. We also have professionals present at each activity to help engage the particpants. When special needs particpants are there we also assign a buddy to each of them who accompany them during all activities. You will never be on your own.
Q: How much of a commitment is required to volunteer with my therapy dog?
A: This is totally up to you. Some may choose to attend sessions on a regular basis and enjoy time in multiple activities. Others may choose to particpate in a single activity each session or only volunteer once a month. We do encourage our therapy dog teams to come as often as possible because dogs and handlers gain confidence with familiarity. We also need to maintain schedules with enough dogs and remember too that there may be individuals who may look forward to being with a particular dog each time they come and may be disappointed when there favorite dog is not there.
Q: What will my dog be doing at DogAbility?
A : Depending upon the program that your dog may be participating in will determine what he/she will be doing. For instance, if you are in the Walk the Dog program, you will both be hiking through open fields, wooded trails or on a shady lane; however, if your dog is in the Reading to Dogs program, he/she may be required to lay down quietly by a child’s side and may even fall asleep, allowing the child to lean on him/her like a furry pillow! Participation in our Dog Play program will require focus and energy and a desire to follow cues and offer up various skills and talents.
Q: How long is a typical session?
A: Sessions are scheduled to last an hour.
Q: How many dogs and participants are present during a session?
A: It will vary depending on the activity as some are group activities and others are private.
Q: Who is supervising the session, specifically, the participant?
A: There will be therapy dog team handlers, professional dog trainers and various professionals present at every session, as well as an assigned “Buddy” for each of our participants. The “Buddy” will spend the entire session with that particular participant navigating the various activities offered throughout each session to insure a safe and enjoyable experience.
Q: Where do our dogs come from?
A: In our DogAbility program, we invite only certified therapy dogs of all ages, breeds and sizes. These dogs are also family pets. All our dogs are assisted by qualified handlers and/or owners who have met the qualifications and are members in good standing with a canine therapy organization, as well as having completed our own handler education process.
We also offer our own dog training classes for pet families who are interested in having their own dog become a therapy dog. Our unique DogAbility program is attractive to many who would like to be exposed to a variety of canine sports along with their working towards a therapy dog qualification as well as testing for their AKC Canine Good Citizen or STAR Puppy Certifications
About our Participants
Q: Who particpates in DogAbility?
A: DogAbility is open to individual or groups of children and adults of all ages who may or may not have special needs. All ages are welcome and we can accommodate most physical limitations at our location. Senior or group discounts and packages are available.
Q: Can we come and observe before deciding to register?
A: Certainly. We understand that you or your child may be uncertain about a canine experience and its impact. Simply speak with us prior to a session so we can arrange to welcome you and set you up where you can get an idea of what goes on. You may also pay for a single session online or at the door before choosing a discount session package.
Q: How much does it cost to be a particpate or to register for my dog for therapy preparation training sessions?
A: We currently welcome participants to either pay for single visits or a discount package. Charges and payment arrangements are found on the Participant REGISTER page. Dog training students are required to pay for a package and charges are found on the Dog Training REGISTER page.
Q: How can I register as a participant?
A: Simply click on the REGISTER button found above.
About our Volunteers
Q: May anyone volunteer?
A: Absolutely! We welcome volunteers from many areas to assist in our development and spend time with our participants during sessions. You may choose to assist in setting up and overseeing sessions, speak to schools, clubs and organizations representing DogAbility. You may prefer to share your clerical experience or help with fund raising.
Q: How old do you have to be to volunteer?
A: Anyone 18 years and older may volunteer at DogAbility sessions. Please click on the REGISTER button found on the top of the website – then click on VOLUNTEER to find out about the volunteer opportunities available.