There’s a reason they say that “dogs are a (hu)man’s best friend.” Dogs are natural human companions. In a worldwide study of four million people, dog ownership was found to reduce the risk of dying early by 24%.
First responders are at risk of high cortisol levels due to the nature of their jobs, which involve high-pressure situations that center on life and death. Knowing this, many public safety agencies around the country are implementing immersive therapy dog programs at their organizations to help responders cope with and overcome post-traumatic stress.
But how does the process for creating a therapy dog program work? Check out the six steps below for guidance and complete the form on this page to download a fillable caretaking schedule for your new public safety pup.
6 steps to welcoming a therapy dog to your agency
Step 1: Determine the need. First, consider whether a therapy dog would be a good fit for your workplace and the needs of your staff. You may want to conduct a needs assessment or survey to determine interest and potential benefits. Some possible questions include:
- Are you comfortable with the idea of a dog in the workplace?
- Do you have any medical concerns, like allergies, that would prevent you from being around a dog?
- Are you willing to contribute to the dog’s care?
- Do you support the inclusion of a therapy dog at our agency?
Once the data is compiled, a decision can be made as to whether a therapy dog will benefit your members.
Step 2: Research your options. Once the need has been identified, research different options for obtaining a therapy dog. Consider working with a reputable therapy dog organization or trainer, or partnering with a local animal shelter or rescue organization. As therapy dogs don’t need to be able to support people with disabilities, like service dogs, any dog can become a therapy dog, if it displays the right temperament.
Step 3. Identify funding sources. The cost of acquiring and training a therapy dog can vary widely, so you should identify potential sources of funding. This may include grants, donations or fundraising efforts, such as crowd-sourcing the community.
Step 4. Select and train the dog. Once a therapy dog has been identified, your organization will need to ensure that the dog is properly trained and socialized to work with first responders. This may involve working with a professional trainer or attending a therapy dog training program. You can find list of therapy dog trainers by state here.
Don't forget – download a fillable therapy dog weekly checklist to use at your organization and keep your new four-legged friend on a consistent schedule! There are also spots to record the date and distance of walks, and a fillable calendar for vet appointments. Fill out the form at the bottom of this article to download the free PDF for use as part of your new therapy dog program.
Step 5. Develop policies and procedures. Your organization should develop clear policies and procedures for incorporating the therapy dog into the workplace. This may include guidelines for handling the dog, scheduling visits, and ensuring the safety of staff and patients.
Step 6. Implement and evaluate. Finally, your organization should implement the therapy dog program and regularly evaluate its effectiveness. This may involve collecting feedback from staff and tracking outcomes such as stress reduction, job satisfaction and improved communication. For more information on how best to implement a therapy dog station at your organization, check out this Lexipol on-demand webinar, “Getting Started with First Responder Therapy Dogs”.
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What else do you need?
When you adopt a therapy dog, you are welcoming a new member to your public safety organization. However, Fido will need a few things to make him feel comfortable in his new home. Check out these products for your therapy dog:
Orthopedic dog bed with memory foam
This is an orthopedic dog bed option, which will be easy on your dog’s joints as he gets older. It also has a removable cover for easy washing – always a plus.
Washable couch cover with pillow
This might be helpful if you have station furniture you want to protect from accidents or scratches from excited puppies.
Waterproof action collar for dogs
This rugged collar is tear-proof and waterproof for active dogs in case your new pup is the adventurous type.
Firefighter turnout gear collar
Or, perhaps, you want your therapy dog to match your fire department members?
EMS-themed dog collar
Or your EMS members?
Police tape-themed dog collar
Or your police officers?
This a durable option that is also reflective, which might come in handy if you end up taking your pup for a stroll around the block after a call at 2 a.m. before you head back to bed.
Interactive dog bone toy
If it’s a busy night and Fido can’t be walked right away, this is a great option, as it will move on its own and give your pup a bit of exercise while everyone is off fighting crime, fires or cardiac arrests.
Treat dispenser puzzle
This is another good option that will help keep your dog entertained and his mind sharp.
Making the call to add a therapy dog program
The addition of a therapy dog will undoubtedly benefit the members of your public safety organization and give them something joyful to return to after the next inevitable difficult call. By following the above steps and fully researching your options, you can create a thriving therapy dog program that will benefit your agency for years to come.
Are you on the fence about incorporating a therapy animal into your organization? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions and let us know your thoughts.