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July 01, 2006

Inside Delta Society

By: Michelle Richards

The Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org) is one of the top two most well-known and respected professional organizations that certify animals to do therapy work. The other top organization is Therapy Dogs International, Inc. – TDI (www.tdi-dog.org).

The Delta Society certifies you as a team – the handler and the animal. Once you are certified, you are referred to as a Pet Partner team. There are two classes of therapy work you can volunteer to do. One is called animal-assisted activity-AAA and the other is called animal-assisted therapy-AAT.

Animal-assisted activity-AAA- involves therapy work in retirement homes, hospitals, schools or libraries and just being there with people. You may sit and visit with someone while they pet your dog or you may be able to show off some of your dog’s tricks!

Animal-assisted therapy-AAT- is working with health care professionals during their therapy sessions with patients. For example, you may work with a speech therapist and a child with autism or you may work with a physical therapist and a patient who is recovering from a stroke. AAT-animal-assisted therapy has you and your dog involved in the actual therapy session.

The Delta Society allows you to purchase the team manual directly from their website and do a home-study or you can join a therapy dog class. The test is the same no matter how you prepare. The Delta Society tests and certifies you and your pet as a team. Hence the name Pet Partners.

The Delta Society also certifies other animals. Therapy work is not just for dogs you know! You can also certify cats, birds, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, domestic rats, horses, donkeys, llamas, goats, miniature pigs, potbellied pigs, cows and chickens!

Okay, back to dogs. To prepare for the Delta Society certification test for dogs, basic obedience commands are necessary along with the ability to have calm interactions with other people and dogs. If your dog has been through a basic obedience class and has solid skills such as sit, down, stay and come; you should have the obedience part covered. If your dog is an AKC Canine Good Citizen, you would be ready to test. The AKC and the Delta Society worked together in creating the criteria for the Delta Society test. Much of what is required in the Delta Society test is based on the Canine Good Citizen test criteria.

The Delta Society test is meant to mimic what typical interactions will be like whether you are out doing animal-assisted activities or animal-assisted therapy. You must know your dog and be able to read when they are becoming stressed or uncomfortable in a situation. YOU are an active member of the team. This is not like being in the obedience ring. Think of being at the Cedarburg Strawberry Festival with your dog and someone comes up and asks if their kids can pet your dog. You would be involved in that interaction with your dog. You would watch to make sure they were petting / handling your dog appropriately. You would watch for signs to tell you that your dog is uncomfortable or they had had enough. This is what makes a great Pet Partner team.

Again, these individual components of the test are meant to mimic what you will typically encounter. The actual test includes the following exercises:
- Meeting and greeting a friendly stranger
- Allowing someone to groom your dog
- Meeting and greeting another Pet Partner team (human & dog)
- Walking casually through a crowd
- Reacting to a distraction – such as crutches being dropped on the floor
- Reacting to a staggering / gesturing individual
- Reacting to an argument being staged
- Heeling with your dog
- Demonstrating your dog knows the following commands and can perform them:
- Sit
- Down
- Stay
- Leave It
- Come / recall away from someone petting them

Upon successful completion of your certification test, you submit your completed registration packet along with a photo of you and your dog to the Delta Society. Part of the registration packet is a health screening form which your veterinarian is required to complete and sign. There is a fee for registration and you are required to recertify and re-register every two years.

Please understand that training your dog to be a therapy dog does NOT make them a service dog. Therapy dogs have no more rights out in public than companion animals do. Service / assistance dogs have rights under the ADA-Americans with disabilities act – therapy dogs do not.

Therapy work is a great way to get out with your dog and volunteer in your community! If you are interested or would like more information – please visit the websites listed above.

Michelle Richards is the owner as well as one of five trainers and twelve Playologists at Happy Hounds, LLC a doggie daycare and dog training facility in Germantown. She is a member of the APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), a certified evaluator for the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program and is American Red Cross Pet First Aid and CPR certified. Michelle has certified her two Labrador Retrievers and Rottweiler as Delta Society Pet Partners as well as AKC Canine Good Citizens.

Happy Hounds is located at N115 W19150 Edison Drive (in the industrial park off of Hwy 41/45 at Mequon Road) in Germantown. For more information please visit our website:
www.happyhoundswi.com or call us at (262)502-DOGS (3647).

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