The importance of familiarity for therapy dogs

Kirby brings his blankets everywhere
Kirby brings his blankets everywhere
When choosing where you will work with your therapy animal, consider how important familiarity is to both you and your pet.

If you have a dog (or cat) that is great with newness and happy to meet new people all the time and settles in quickly, consider an assignment with a hospital or changing population such as short-term rehab.

Do you as the human end of the leash like starting conversation over and over, getting to know new people quickly or do you prefer building a relationship over time?

George prefers to make friends and loves his "regulars"
George prefers to make friends and loves his “regulars”

If you and your animal prefer to get to know people and engage more personally, then an assignment where you see the same people over and over is for you, such as long-term care facilities or schools where you visit the same class over time.

And many environments are a combination of the two where you have your “regulars” as well as new people coming in and out.

Kirby just likes to have his bone nearby
Kirby just likes to have his bone nearby

The best way to ensure your animal being comfortable no matter what you encounter is to always have some familiarity built into your visits.

For example, Kirby always has a familiar blanket and his favorite toy and little bone. He does not eat the bone, but likes to have it nearby. He does not play with the toy unless we want to engage him in an activity, but he finds it comforting to have with him.

We always use blankets for the dogs to lie on whether they are large dogs on the floor or like Kirby, being placed on laps or beds. The blanket is his security and he knows wherever it is, he belongs. We even bring it to the vet, which he visits often, and he feels secure and calm.

Benny looks good on a blue blanket, don't you think?
Benny looks good on a blue blanket, don’t you think?

For Benny he knows the special collar and leash are what he wears when he is working. He also has a variety of blankets we use and as soon as it is placed somewhere he knows that is the “Spot” to be.

The vest or bandana our Love Dogs wear when working is the ultimate in familiarity. As soon as Kirby or Benny or our other team members put on their “uniform” they are in a working mode.

Even a big dog like Bailey likes to have his own blanket to lie on
Even a big dog like Bailey likes to have his own blanket to lie on

Give your animal time to become familiar with the facility itself even if the people keep changing. The same spot to sniff and eliminate, the same path from the car to the door, perhaps greeting the same receptionist each time is all the familiarity your animal needs.

So make every visit a familiar one by having with you those things or objects or symbols your pet has gotten to know and trust as signs that this is a fun, comfortable adventure.