Is my dog too old to become a therapy dog?

Coco the Love Dog worked until she was almost fifteen years old

Coco the Love Dog worked until she was almost fifteen years old

Many people tell me “I would love to become a Pet Partner therapy team with my dog but she is too old now.”

This may not be the case.

Many senior dogs, dogs over five, six or seven years old, are often the most suitable. They have the puppy years behind them and they are usually well trained and well mannered and calm and predictable in their behaviors.

To become a Pet Partner a dog has to be at least one year old and have lived with their owner for at least six months. But there is no maximum age limit for how old a dog can be to participate.

A senior dog should not be stressed so if the dog cannot pass the evaluation and conduct all the required elements with ease and joy, then it may not be the best idea.

Bailey takes a rest now and then

Bailey takes a rest now and then

But if the dog has solid basic obedience and a love for people and a very knowledgeable owner, this could be the perfect thing to do as a dog ages out of more physical activities.

The owner has to be especially vigilant in watching their dog’s signals however. As a dog ages and loses some of his senses, such as sight and hearing, you want to make sure every single day that the dog will not snap or bark or bite if frightened or touched.

Pet Partners requires re-testing every two years to insure the safety of each team, however with a senior dog it is the owner’s responsibility to constantly monitor the dog’s changing behaviors as it ages.

Kirby is the sweetest little old man

Kirby is the sweetest little old man

If the dog has difficulty walking or staying in positions for long periods of time, this too should be considered.  When a senior dog passes the Pet Partners evaluation the next big step is considering the best volunteer assignment for that dog. Walking long hallways on slippery floors of a hospital or health facility may not be the best idea. But if that dog loves lying down and being cuddled perhaps a reading program or other school effort is best.

If a small dog can no longer get into certain positions then having your dog visit people in hospital beds or around other equipment may not be the best choice. Perhaps working with an assignment where the team is in one place for the duration of the visit and the clients are brought to the dogs rather than the other way around, is best.

If the dog is arthritic and no longer comfortable lying down or standing in moving elevators, then a facility where no elevators are required may be best.

Rygambo is a beautiful horse at 23

Rygambo is a beautiful horse at 23

If the dog needs to eliminate more frequently a facility with easy access to the outside is necessary and visits should be shorter in duration with frequent breaks.

Some accommodations can be made with dogs with disabilities during the evaluation, but every dog must pass all the elements to prove they are capable of working.

Pet Partners does not permit dogs to work in strollers but a dog with disabilities may allowed to “ride,” so always check with your instructor/evaluator in advance of the test to see if this accommodation can be made for that individual dog.

In our therapy program some of our greatest stars are our senior animals. Kirby was about eight years old when first tested and he has been working for three years now. Bingo was about seven when she began her career, Rocky almost ten. Bailey is now over ten and Cheerio was seven when she was evaluated for the first time.

And Rygambo, our therapy horse, is twenty-three years old and found her true calling at this stage of her life!