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Smiling Seniors

Taking your Pup to Assisted Living

By Camp Bow Wow


Eyes light up. Smiles stretch from ear to ear. Common reactions to a doggy visitor at an assisted living facility or nursing home.


One Malte-poo, Charming, has been a popular visitor at a Schowalter Villa in Hesston, Kansas, over the past year. His owner, Carol, frequently drives several hours to bring Charming to see her mother, Clara.


“All she has to do to get smiles is walk through the hall with her cute little dog,” Clara said. “Charming is quite a hit with everyone he sees.”


“It’s something unexpected and a real treat, especially for people who love animals,” agreed Dr. Arthur Dick, who was pleasantly surprised recently when Charming hopped in his lap to pose for a picture.

Charming is registered as Carol’s comfort animal, which may have paved the way for his warm welcome into the facility, but most places don’t require pets to be specifically designated as a therapy dog to enter, and especially if you are taking a pup to see a relative. What is important is that your furry family member knows his manners, is completely potty trained and enjoys being around people. While at Schowalter, Charming doesn’t leave his owner’s side for an instant. He doesn’t bark, and although he responds warmly, he waits to approach until someone takes the initiative to pet him.


Interested in sharing the joy of a canine cuddle with local seniors? Before popping by, check with the facility to see if there’s an approval process or specific requirements. At the very least, they can recommend times that are more conducive to a visit. They may ask you to prove your pup’s up to date on his vaccinations, has passed the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Test or even require you and Fido be covered by liability insurance in case of mishap. (You can look into coverage through The Delta Society or Therapy Dogs International.)


Training your pup to become a therapy dog rather than a visitor is a fairly rigorous process. Begin by making sure he likes meeting new people and will enjoy the work. Any history of nipping or biting would immediately disqualify Fido from service. Does he obey you and follow basic commands of sit, stay, come, down, and stay? Can your pup remain calm and follow commands even if there are distractions? 


If you decide the emotional rewards are worth the effort, grab some treats and start introducing your pup to crowds. You can take him to the park or a dog-friendly restaurant to acclimate him. Once he’s used to commotion, get him familiar with strangers petting him by encouraging people to offer him a treat. Make sure Fido sits to eat his treat and doesn’t jump up on people. Watch his demeanor. Is he enjoying the attention? Once you decide he’s people friendly enough to venture to a facility, make sure to factor in time for your furry family member to get used to the unfamiliar sights and smells. It might be best to visit just a few residents the first time rather than subjecting him to the throng in a common area.


Therapy dog organizations can offer training strategies and certifications. The AKC will provide an AKC Therapy Dog™ title to those who have been certified/registered by an AKC recognized therapy dog organization and have completed the required number of community service hours.  Find a list of organizations the AKC recommends at You can also contact local PAWS for Service or Delta Pet Partners of San Antonio to assist as a volunteer and learn more.

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