4Paws teams visit healthcare and educational sites in Napa, Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, and San Francisco counties. They enable people to feel “normal” – if even for a short time – and not just a patient or a student with problems. That is often when the healing process can begin for patients, or the moment when children see themselves capable of being successful students. You’ll know when you are a successful team when patients, staff, teachers, students and residents remember your dog’s name, but not yours. And that’s how it should be.
FAQ's on How to become a 4Paws Social Therapy Team
1. Are some dogs better than others to do social therapy?
If you have a dog that loves people and is tolerant of children's antics or adores being with adults, you may have a good candidate for a therapy dog. Keep in mind that puppies are a little too exuberant and need to wait until they are about one year old before coming to class. Older dogs make wonderful “therapists” as long as they aren’t suffering from painful joints that make it difficult for them to walk down long hallways or on slippery floors.
2. How much time is required?
As the dog's handler, you commit a few hours per month to visit a site that is appropriate for your dog and that suits your interests. You also need to figure in additional time spent grooming your companion for each visit.
3. What does the application process involve?
First, to reserve a seat for class, we ask that you send in a completed application, including a copy of your dog’s vaccination record, the C-BARQ+questionnaire, and a check for class fees and materials. Each space is filled on a “first come, first-served” basis. The dates of all of our trainings for the year are listed to the right.
You will receive an email confirmation that your application has arrived. If material is missing, we will advise you.
Then, two weeks prior to class we will send you a reminder, the class manual, and directions to Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa. Plan to spend about 3 - 4 hours reviewing the manual and answering the questions before coming to class. There is a Certification Checklist we ask that you complete and turn in for the first class and pass with 80%.
Second, you will to participate in both training dates. The first Saturday is a 7.0 hour Certification Class. If you wish to work with children, you will attend a second, 2-hour class, Readers of the Pack™. That class and team evaluations are held the second Saturday.
Third, prospective teams must pass the team evaluation. 4Paws does not require that canines have specific training or titles, however, we do evaluate a dog’s good manners, confidence and willingness to work with you. The evaluation also allows us to see how you and your dog act and react in a variety of situations. The basics include,
- Walking on a leash.
- Sitting to meet a friendly stranger.
- Knowing what to do when someone unusual, exuberant, or loud approaches you and your canine.
- Maneuvering around hospital equipment, such as wheelchairs, canes and walkers.
- Leaving tasty morsels on the floor.
- Tolerating gentle touching.
- Taking treats.
- Working as a team during the evaluation.
Once you have completed and passed the class and evaluation, you will then be mentored twice at a facility. When you and your companion have completed all the above, you will then be a 4Paws Canine-Assisted Therapy Team and receive your uniforms. Keep in mind that many sites also have their own requirements, such as TB tests, background checks, or fingerprinting. Those will also need to be completed before volunteering.
4. What costs are involved?
The class materials, fees, insurance, and evaluation is $100 for one person and one dog. (Additional dogs or people are $70 each.) To comply with our insurance provider, CALNon-Profits Insurance Services, teams must wear uniforms and badges when volunteering. Canine and human uniforms range in price depending on what you choose. Badges will be sent with uniforms. If you renew your certification, the annual fee is $35 per team.
We know that many people are on limited or fixed incomes and so we offer scholarships to help defray the initial costs of becoming a certified team. To apply, please enclose a brief letter with your application and explain that your have limited resources and would appreciate a scholarship. Let us know if you would like a scholarship with the training fees and/or uniforms. In return, we ask that you donate time helping at two of our events during the year. There are trainings, social gatherings and fundraising events that you can volunteer for.
Social activity keeps people alive and thriving, no matter their age or circumstances. Pets—especially dogs—spark that connection. Dogs can make a lonely person reach out to touch them. In schools, dogs give children a chance to feel better about themselves, regardless of their abilities or differences.
How canines can help people is what 4Paws volunteers learn when they become teams with their dogs and visit healthcare and educational settings.
Mrs. Tiegmann sat against the wall, her slight body slumped in a wheelchair and her gnarled hands folded in her lap. She was 100 years old and a resident of a sprawling suburban convalescent home.
She had lost touch with the world until one afternoon a curly-haired yellow dog visited her. Until then, she vacillated between a dazed silence and bouts of calling out angrily for someone to help her find the door. So no one really knew what to expect with a dog visit, it being the first time. But after a few moments with Pauline the retriever, she reached out and started patting the soft canine head.
The new volunteer was nervous and asked a few questions. At first Mrs. Tiegmann made no response. Then she looked up and nodded at the volunteer.
"Nice dog," she said. "I had dogs once."
Even the aides were surprised to hear her speak and stopped to listen while their patient began a coherent narrative describing her childhood in Poland over ninety years before. She spoke mainly of the many pets she had and how she saved bits and pieces of food for them. And despite the church's rule to never give a human name to an animal, she secretly named them Micky or Rita or Anna, whatever named she fancied at the time.
Her hands kept stroking the golden fur and the old woman's eyes turned from a dull gray to blue as she told her story.
There are many anecdotes about dogs reaching people in special ways; in this case a woman lost in her own foggy reality. Research studies also show that pets and people share a unique bond, one that goes beyond words.
4Paws Social Therapy teams visit both healthcare and educational sites, and while every visit isn't as surprising or meaningful as Pauline's with Mrs. Tiegmann, every volunteer eventually experiences a moment in which their companion touches someone to his or her core. That is why we believe that dogs can help in ways people or drugs cannot.
The majority of 4Paws Therapy Dogs are rescued. That means dogs in shelters or other rescue societies that have been given a second chance, can reward humans in myriad ways—including social therapy work.