How to Volunteer with Your Dog

by Susan Dunn

Want to volunteer with your animal companion? This is a great activity, for you on-your-own, with partner, or with the kids.

While I'll use dogs here, other animal companions have participated in these Visiting and Therapy Programs, such as cats, guinea pigs, birds and rabbits.

Known by various terms, taking your animal companion to a hospital, prison, nursing home, children's shelter, or oncology, psychiatric, or pediatric ward can be a rewarding experience for everyone. It's a great learning experience, both intellectually and emotionally. Here's how to proceed.

1. Consider your dog's personality.

You already have a good idea how your dog interacts with other animals and people. Good visiting dogs enjoy meeting strangers, actively approaching but in a calm, friendly manner. A fearful or aggressive dog is not a good candidate. An overly enthusiastic greeter can be trained.

2. Consider your dog's reactions.

He must be able to tolerate strange people, noises and surroundings, commotions, and also the other animals that might be visiting as well. He must be able to calm quickly and reliably.

3. Choose the right venue to suit your dog's personality [and yours].

A convalescent home, the children's playground at a shelter, a prison, and a psychiatric ward all require slightly different tolerances from the dog. One dog may be sad at the lack of contact in a convalescent home, while another might be over-stimulated by a group of active children. 4. Start with good obedience training.

Check with your vet or in the yellow pages for training opportunities in your community.

5. Condition your dog to stimulating new environments, building her trust and confidence in you. (If you're taking her there, it's okay.)

6. Read some books on the subject. There's a list here: .

7. Join an organization that can help you learn and also direct you to opportunities. Here are three: The Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc. ( ), Therapy Dogs International, Inc. ( ), and Delta Society ( ).

8. Obtain a Canine Good Citizenship Certificate - - awarded under guidelines by the American Kennel Club ( AKC).

It involves basic good behavior, following some commands, being able to stay alone briefly, not whine or bark, good grooming, and other things.

9. Once your dog has earned the Canine Good Citizenship Certificate, you can register him or her in the Canine Good Citizen Hall of Fame -

10. Don't be afraid to set this up on an informal basis, from simply going to visit a home-bound neighbor, to calling the volunteer director at the local children's shelter and asking if you can come by.

A good volunteer director is adept at working in various volunteer opportunities, and also always looking for enriching, fun and/or educational activities for clients and residents.

Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, . I offer coaching, distance learning courses, and ebooks around emotional intelligence. Free ezine, Daily tips, send blank email to . I train and certify EQ coaches. Get in this field, dubbed "white hot" by the press, now, before it's crowded, and offer your clients something of real value. Start tomorrow, no residence requirement, global student body. Email for prospectus. Business programs - .

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