I have a new puppy that I want to be a therapy dog some day. What kind of training should I be doing right now?

A well-mannered, friendly dog who enjoys meeting people and going into new places is what is needed in a therapy dog. Start by spending lots of time socializing your dog. Take him everywhere dogs are allowed to go. Introduce him to people of all ages-from little children to the elderly. Expose him to lots of different noises-cars, sirens, train whistles, etc. Start taking your puppy to training classes right away. Puppy Kindergarten, Beginner Obedience, Intermediate Obedience, Canine Good Citizen, Rally and Agility are some great courses to take with your dog. Doing so builds a strong bond between you and your dog as you train together as a team. Plan play dates so your dog gets used to being around other dogs. When your dog turns a year old, or older, if not ready, you can fill out our online application to start the certification process.

Can I volunteer for Bright Spot even though I don’t have a dog?

At this time, all of our volunteer positions are held by our members who make therapy visits with their dogs.

Is Bright Spot’s certification recognized outside this area?

Bright Spot Therapy Dogs is an American Kennel Club approved therapy dog organization. Our certification is recognized nationally.

Does my dog need to pass the Canine Good Citizen course to be certified by Bright Spot?

The CGC course is a good course to take as you and your dog train together, but it is not required by Bright Spot. Our certification process involves submission of our volunteer  application, successful completion of the therapy dog training course, and passing the on-site evaluation which is held at an area nursing home.

If my dog and I do not pass the evaluation the first time, can we be evaluated again?

Yes. After your evaluation, you and your dog should continue to work on your skills. When you feel you and your dog are ready for another evaluation, contact our registrar, Michelle Karb. You will need to pay the $35 evaluation fee, and another evaluation will be set up.

Once we are certified, are we on our own to visit? Will we ever see Bright Spot volunteers again?

Yes. You should use the list of facilities on the members only portion of our website as a place to start. If you wish to participate in our group visits (like our monthly visits to The Soldiers Home in Holyoke or our College Stress Relief Events), you will see other teams often.

Do we need to be re-evaluated each year to be re-certified?

To remain an active Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team, you must renew your certification annually. Each May, our membership coordinator mails renewal packets to all members. The packet outlines the steps to renewal that include sending in the following: a check for $35 a completed Veterinary Health Certificate, and an updated rabies certificate, by June 30.

Is there a certain breed or age of dog that makes a better therapy dog?

We have lots of breeds in our organization, including mixed breeds. As far as age, generally, dogs get calmer as they get older, so older dogs tend to be easier to train for therapy work. That said, many dogs are terrific therapy dogs at a year old. All dogs are different. When thinking about training a dog for therapy work, the dog’s personality and how he/she interacts with people are what are most important.

I’m confused. What is the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog?

Many people are confused by these terms, especially today where there are emotional support dogs and assistance dogs in the mix. Think in terms of a therapy dog and his handler working as a team. This team goes out on visits to healthcare, educational and business environments offering comfort and caring to those in need. A service dog is a dog that is specially trained to help an individual with a particular disability-PTSD, hearing loss, blindness, seizures, etc. The trained service dog lives with the person he is trained to help. Bright Spot trains therapy dogs and their handlers to be therapy dog teams. We do not train service dogs.

Do you provide trained therapy dogs for people?

No. A handler owns his dog and together they train with us to become a Bright Spot certified therapy dog team.

Do Bright Spot Therapy Dog Teams make visits to private homes?

No. Bright Spot Therapy Dog Teams make visits under the auspices of facilities that are listed on our members’ list of visiting opportunities. A team may be sent by a facility into a private home to visit, such as a home/healthcare program for hospice patients.

What does it cost to have a Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team visit our facility?

We are a no-fee for service organization. Our teams volunteer their time making visits to faciliies on a regular basis, per arrangement with the individual volunteer. Volunteers choose where they want to visit. We have approximately 200 facilities throughout New England requesting our volunteer services.

My dog has been certified with another therapy dog organization for several years, but I would like to join Bright Spot Therapy Dogs. Do I need to take the required training course?

We often have teams transfer to Bright Spot Therapy Dogs from another therapy dog organization. Some handlers enjoy taking our therapy dog training class as a refresher, but it is not required by those transferring from other organizations with the following documentation submitted to Bright Spot: certificate of certification from the organization with which the handler is currently registered, and documentation of 50 therapy dog visits made with the handler’s current dog. This documentation must be sent in to our registrar enabling the handler/dog to sign-up for an evaluation.

After my dog and I are certified with Bright Spot, can I bring my dog to work with me? 

If you plan to bring you dog to work with you to work with others, please contact your homeowners or renters insurance for coverage. The liability insurance that accompanies Bright Spot certification DOES NOT cover you and your dog at work. Bright Spot liability insurance covers you when you  are volunteering only, and this does not include when you are working.