Despite their imposing physique, Great Danes are often very loving and somewhat docile dogs that love people and are good with children. These are all traits that make for a great therapy dog.
Of course, there are many other characteristics that are required for your Great Dane to become a certified therapy dog, obedience and socialization are likely the most important. The key is to start early with both socialization and obedience training.
It is important to begin socializing your Great Dane puppy early, but not until he or she has has received all the recommended vaccinations. Once vaccinated, wait a couple of weeks and then let the socialization begin.
Explore New Environments
Take your puppy with you wherever he is allowed. Parks, pet stores, the homes of friends and family, and any pet accessible public places. You want your Great Dane to become comfortable with crowds, noise, and unfamiliar situations and environments.
Meet New People
Your Great Dane should be comfortable around strangers, both children and adults. Introduce him/her to new people and encourage them to offer treats and affection. You want your puppy to associate people with good things.
Socialize With Other Animals
You should make a point of introducing your Great Dane to other dogs. Play dates with neighborhood dogs, walks in the park, and occasional trips to the dog park are all good options. Of course, you need to approach other dogs only with the owner’s permission and be mindful of dogs that seem poorly behaved or aggressive.
Understand that obedience and socialization go hand in hand and every day of your puppy’s young life should include facets of both disciplines. Set aside time every day to work with your Great Dane on obedience training and incorporate obedience into your social outings.
Build On The Basics
Start with the basics of obedience training. Sit, stay, come, down, heel, and no are all basic commands that your Great Dane should master early in life. These will create a solid foundation for more advanced training as your Great Dane matures.
Work With Distractions
Therapy dogs work in a variety of environments and are subject to many distractions. It is important that your Great Dane can focus and maintain composure in spite of the varied stimuli that surrounds him/her. Practicing obedience in public places or where other distractions exist will help your Dane to focus on the job at hand.
Train With Other People
When socializing your Great Dane you should encourage others to ask him/her to sit, stay and lay down. You want your Great Dane to be receptive to other people’s requests as well as your own. In a therapy environment there may be times when your Dane will need to take commands from someone other than you.
It will be beneficial for your Great Dane (and the people he/she serves) if they can master some more advanced commands. Being able to retrieve items that are dropped or heel at the side of a wheelchair can be very beneficial skills. You might even consider teaching your Dane hand signals to accommodate the deaf and mute.
Once you feel that your Great Dane has mastered the basic obedience commands and behaves well in social situations, it’s time to start racking up accreditations. Important accreditations include obedience training certificates, Canine Good Citizen accreditation, and therapy dog certification.
Obedience Training Classes
There are likely a number of local obedience training courses available for your Great Dane. You should take the time to research these providers and find one that you are comfortable with and that has a good reputation in the industry. Sign your future therapy dog up for a basic obedience course and work to earn a certificate of completion.
Once the basic training is complete you might consider moving on to more advanced training and the more advanced certifications that come with it.
Canine Good Citizen Accreditation
The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen training program focuses on behavior and temperament. The program provides classes, tests, and evaluators for your Great Dane to show that he/she is capable of being well mannered in all types of social situations. Earning a Canine Good Citizen certificate is another feather in your Dane’s cap on the road to becoming a certified therapy dog.
Start Booking Therapy Gigs
Now that your Great Dane has earned some street cred, it’s time to put all that training to use. Seek out organizations that are known to incorporate therapy dogs. These might include hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, just to name a few.
Many organizations will accept therapy dogs with an AKC Canine Good Citizen certification, others may require that your Dane pass an in-house evaluation as well. Either way, working as a volunteer handler in therapy environments will often present more opportunity for you and your four-legged therapist.
The AKC offers titles to dogs that have racked up visits over time and the more time you and your Dane put in helping others in therapy situations, the more recognition you will receive.