So many people ask me which breeds make the best therapy dogs and does size matter?
Breed does not matter as long as the dog has the proper training and temperament for this kind of activity.
And while size does not matter at all, different size dogs do different things.
Sometimes we need the tiniest dog like Petey because he is working with very young children and they can cradle him and we can tuck him into their small laps. A small dog can be positioned with people who are on a respirator or have no mobility at all. The little dog can be raised up high or supported in a safe hold to reach any part of the client that has feeling or mobility.
And the larger dogs are just perfect for wheelchair height or physical and occupational therapy such as walking and balance work.
When we work with people with a fear of dogs you would think we begin with the smallest dogs but that is not always the case. Sometimes someone has their fear because they have been bitten or frightened by a small dog, so we would work up to desensitizing them to another small dog.
Sometimes people have the fear of fast moving dogs so we want to begin with the most neutral for these behaviors.
And you have to take into account the relationship between animal and client. Once we thought tiny Petey would be the best choice for a young child with little to no mobility as his therapy partner. But he had no interest in the small dog. Then he saw a huge Golden and his eyes lit up and the right fit was observed by everyone. That child worked with “his” dog for over a year and incredible breakthroughs were achieved.
So while the Love Dogs vary in size from four pounds to over 100 pounds, it is always the natural desire for the animal to be with people, their ability to learn the behaviors they need to learn and the skill of their handler.
So while size does not matter in general, making the right match between handler, animal and assignment is the most critical piece of a successful assist-animal program.