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Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Mouse is a 1.5 year old, 125lb brindle Bullmastiff. He is an Arizona native, born and bred in Chino Valley.

Mouse has been training to be a Therapy Dog since he was just a couple months old. He is currently still in training, with plans to be fully certified by his second birthday.

Although he's a working dog, Mouse still gets plenty of down time for naps, snacks, and play. True to his Arizona roots, Mouse knows how to keep it cool. His favorite napping spot is a cold tile floor, he loves to play in the water, and his favorite snack is a puppy popsicle.


What is a Therapy Dog?

The American Kennel Club defines "Therapy Dog" simply as:

A dog who works in a team with a handler to improve the lives of others.

There are a few different types of therapy animals:

Some therapy animals volunteer with their handler to provide emotional support, companionship, or comfort. They may visit places like nursing homes and hospitals.

Other therapy animals, like Mouse, are considered "working" therapy animals. They may assist a medical or mental health professional in providing a specific type of service (i.e. physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling).

There are also facility therapy animals. They may live at a facility full-time and they work with the staff to provide support and comfort to residents. You might find a facility therapy dog at places like group homes and assisted living facilities.

The Alliance of Therapy Dogs outlines the following general guidelines for a therapy dog:

"Be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations."

"Enjoy human contact and be content to be petted, cuddled, and unfamiliar people."

"Any mix or breed of least one year old."

What is the difference between a Therapy Dog and a Service Dog?

Service Dogs are typically trained to perform specific tasks to assist one individual with a disability, medical condition, or mental health condition. Tasks vary, but may include things like accompanying someone in public to help keep them safe (guide dog), alerting to a medical condition (seizure, low blood sugar), assisting with coping with acute symptoms of a mental health condition (flashbacks, nightmares, sensory sensitivity), and seeking help if the person becomes incapacitated or requires assistance.

Service dogs help individuals with disabilities maintain a sense of independence and a quality of life.

Therapy Dogs work in a team with a handler to provide comfort, support, and reassurance to many different people in various settings. Sometimes they are taught specific 'games' or 'tricks' to help in a therapeutic capacity (playing fetch with someone to assist with rehabilitating a shoulder injury). At other times, a therapy dog might provide support or comfort just by being present (providing support and comfort after a critical incident).


What kind of training has Mouse had?

Mouse started basic obedience training when he was just 8 weeks old. This included basic commands (sit, stay), as well as housetraining and crate training. He also learned to be comfortable with handling during this time. Every day, Mouse goes through his daily "checks." Jess checks Mouse's ears, eyes, teeth/mouth, and paws. This also really helps with vet visits!

When he was a bit older (and fully vaccinated), Mouse started socializing. He learned to ride in a car while wearing a harness and seat belt and he was introduced to other dogs, unfamiliar environments, and all kinds of people.

Mouse passed his first formal test, the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy exam, when he was 8 months old. This test included ensuring Mouse isn't aggressive (toward people or other animals), he is comfortable being handled by others, he can follow basic commands and show impulse control, and he is able to adapt and adjust to novel situations (i.e. loud noises, unfamiliar stimuli).

Mouse is in the process of training for his Canine Good Citizen test. During this test, Mouse will demonstrate his manners and skills while in the presence of other dogs and environmental distractions, be walked and groomed by a stranger, all while following voice and hand signals only, without any treats or incentives!

The final step in becoming a Certified Therapy Dog is a practical exam, where an evaluator accompanies Mouse and Jess on a few visits to different facilities to see them work as a team in live scenarios

Mouse continues to train every day

(though he really just considers it play time!)

Jess tries to keep his training varied and interesting from day to day. The amount and type of training changes depending on the day (i.e. the weather, available resources), Mouse's energy level, and his schedule for that week. He might go on outings to practice his skills in novel or populated locations, learn a new skill, reinforce previously learned skills, or engage in some form of enrichment activity.

Did Jess need any special training?


Jess took classes through the Association of Animal-Assisted Intervention Professionals on topics such as Zoonotic Disease Prevention, Animal Handling, and Human-Animal Communication. She then passed a written exam to receive her certification as an Animal Assisted Intervention Specialist. Jess and Mouse practice their skills every day through training drills and outings. Jess also receives ongoing consultation and coaching on best practices for animal handling. To maintain her certification, Jess is required to take a certain number of continuing education classes every year.


See what Mouse has been up to on Instagram


Check out the following resources for more information about therapy and service dogs:


© 2023 by Jessica Carter

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