How to become a therapy dog, or how Toby became a true wonderdog

Wunderdog’s walkies correspondents, Jess and Toby, are a remarkable team: not only are they doing 10 hikes for charity in 10 months, the Border terrier is also a certified therapy dog. Here, Jess explains what it takes to qualify (and what’s in it for Toby)

I had looked into Toby becoming a therapy dog when he was younger – dogs are required to be nine months old as a minimum before they are able to be assessed as therapy dogs. He was tested when he was about one year old, but was too giddy to pass  – his downfall was that he jumped up too much. My little Border terrier was deferred, and I was able to take the test again with him six months later.

Unfortunately, life got in the way at that point: I was at university and working two jobs, so I didn’t have time to focus on Toby becoming a therapy dog as all the free time I had was spent walking, playing with and training him.

Several years passed between his initial test and when I finally booked him for another assessment. In that time, Toby had completed further training, completed training courses and passed the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme – bronze, silver and gold.

He has been a mascot for another animal charity (Manchester and Cheshire Dogs Home) for some time, has done a few shows and been to Crufts on a number of occasions. All this exposure to so many people meant that I was confident he could pass the therapy assessment, so I finally booked him for another assessment.

A multi-talented dog, Toby also plays the piano

There are two main charities that deal with therapy dogs:Pets as Therapy and Therapy Dogs Nationwide. We decided to have Toby tested through the latter. Both charities have a very similar test as they are ensuring that the dog is suitable to visit care homes, hospitals, schools etc. and has a good temperament.

Any dog taking the test needs to be able to:
– walk on a loose lead (only using a flat lead and collar ­– no harnesses, head collars or check chains are allowed)
– be touched all over by handler
– tolerate being groomed without being to wriggly
– be able to settle next to handler while the handler is talking to the assessor (the dog is to show they can be patient and not interfere)
– react appropriately to a loud bang, usually, an item dropping on the floor (this is to show the dog wouldn’t be worried or dart away should a patient or resident drop an item while the dog is visiting)
– take food treats gently and not snatch.

Did we mention that Toby is pretty talented? Cause he is

Toby has been a therapy dog since August 2017. We both really enjoy our weekly visits to our local residential home. He has learnt which residents give him biscuits and which tickle him in just the right places (chest or behind his ears), and he tends to spend more time sat waiting for them to give him love.

We are looking forward to many more years of visiting and would love to visit some other locations – Therapy Dogs Nationwide visit residential homes, hospitals, hospices, schools and prisons.

Follow Jess and Toby’s adventures on Instagram @jessyyandthewonderdogs

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