There are lots of things that go into the creation of a successful therapy dog. They must be well-behaved, interested in people, walk well on a loose leash, and most importantly, they must be comfortable with being touched all over their body. People you visit are going to be very excited about petting your dog, so it is important that they don’t avoid touch.
1)Identify where your dog likes to be touched (we’ll call it their comfort zone) and begin there. Be careful how you position your body so that you aren’t leaning over your dog, as this may make them uncomfortable. Touch your dog with light to medium pressure – just enough pressure that your dog can feel your touch, but that it isn’t bothersome or scary.
2) Touch with your hand, then immediately present a super tasty treat. After about a second, remove your hand from your dog and stop feeding treats.
3) Repeat for 5 repetitions.
4)Begin slowly stroking your hand from the “comfort zone” towards the areas of your dog’s body they do not like being touched, all while steadily feeding them treats. If your dog shows signs of discomfort (lip licking, wide eyes, moving away, looking at your hand), remove your hand from their body and stop feeding treats. Give your dog a few moments to settle down, and begin again.
5)Continue this over your dog’s whole body, always moving slowly and beginning in a comfort zone.
Once your dog is comfortable with being touched all over by you, you can ask a friend or family member to help out. Fully describe the steps, and have THEM touch your dog while YOU deliver treats!
If you want to test how your dog is feeling about being handled, you can touch them in an area they previously did not like being handled and see if they look expectantly around for treats. If they do, that means they are associating touch with treats – good job!