Becoming a Hand in Paw Therapy Team requires patience and practice. While owning a dog that has a good temperament is a great start, Hand in Paw therapy dogs must also demonstrate basic obedience skills such as “sit”, “stay”, “down”, “come”, and “leave it”.
These skills are instrumental when making therapeutic visits in a facility. Not only will it make the person you are visiting feel more comfortable knowing your dog is well-trained, it also ensures that your visits are as safe as possible.
Teaching the “sit” command is a great place to start when training your dog in basic obedience skills. Not only is it a relatively easy command to learn, it is also a great jumping off point for more complicated commands. Here are some tips and tricks on one way to teach your dog the “sit” command:
Before jumping into the training session, be sure to grab some small, low-calorie treats. Also try to find an area in your home with minimal distractions and noise, that way your dog will be focused on you during the training session (and not that squirrel playing around outside!).
Get your pup’s attention by holding a treat in your hand and letting them sniff it without taking it from you, holding it just above your dog’s nose. Be sure that they are standing while sniffing the treat.
Slowly move the treat just behind your dog’s nose, continuing up over their head. Your dog’s natural instinct will be to sit to continue following the treat above their head. Note: Some dogs may physically turn to follow the treat at first, but typically sit when the treat gets to a certain point. You can try teaching them in a corner of your home so they cannot turn easily.
As soon as your dog sits, give him praise by saying a keyword such as “yes”, then give him lots of treats and petting.
Keep practicing the steps above until your dog quickly sits when a treat is held behind his nose.
Next, you can add a verbal cue to associate with the command. Say the word “Sit” before luring your dog into the sit position with your treat. Once their toosh hits the floor, give your dog praise and reward with a treat.
After some practice with the addition of the verbal cue, you can start to slowly phase out the lure of holding a treat behind their nose and work on having them sit with just the verbal cue. Make sure to reward your pup each time they correctly follow the “Sit” command.
Lastly, try phasing out the use of treats as a reward for following the “Sit” command. Give verbal praise and pet your dog instead. It’s important that your pup still follows your instructions even if a treat is not present. During a Hand in Paw evaluation, obedience without treats as a reward is a skillset we test.
Do not be discouraged if your dog does not learn to sit quickly. Every dog is different! Try doing 10 minute training sessions and always end on a positive note. Practice and consistency are key!
If you are interested in becoming a Hand in Paw Therapy Team with your dog and have not yet completed a group obedience course, please reference this guide of Birmingham trainers that past teams have used!
Learn more about volunteering with Hand in Paw here.