Prepare for Your Pet Partners Team Evaluation

Preparing for Your Evaluation

Volunteering at an Evaluation


Simulating an Evaluation

Your Performance Counts Too

Evaluation Day Checklist

Tips for the Evaluation Exercises

Reviewing the Handler's Questionnaire

Accepting a Friendly Stranger

Accepting Petting

Appearance and Grooming

Out for a Walk

Walk Through a Crowd

Reaction to Distractions

Sit on Cue

Down on Cue

Passed Between Three Strangers

Tips for the Evaluation Exercises, Continued

Back Between Furniture

Stay in Place

Stay in Place on a Table or Lap

Step Up and Stay in Place for Birds

Come When Called

Reaction to a Neutral Dog

Overall Handling

Exuberant and Clumsy Petting

Restraining Hug

Staggering and Gesturing Individual

Angry Yelling

Two-Fingered Tap

Bumped from Behind

Crowded and Petted by Several People

Leave It

Offered a Treat

Preparing for Your Evaluation

Don't even think about skipping down to the exercises.

Screwing your head on straight is half the battle!

Read your way down.

Thank you to all who have contributed to making this webpage a success in helping handlers and their animals become registered Pet Partners therapy animal teams serving their communities.

Your comments and suggests are always welcome!

Columbia River Pet Partners

Volunteering at an Evaluation

This video provides a demonstration of a Pet Partners evaluation and will give you an idea of how an evaluation is conducted. Total playtime for segments 1 through 22 is 16 minutes, and segments 23 through 27 for small dogs and cats take another 5 minutes.

A great way to learn about the evaluation is to volunteer at one. As you see in the video, volunteers play the role of clients being visited by a team.


If I asked you to walk across a room, would it make you nervous? Of course not. And if you practice the exercises of the evaluation, they won't make you and your animal nervous, either.

Here's a mistake often seen in Stay in Place:

When the handler switches their leash to the 10-foot line provided by the evaluator, they remove their leash before attaching the line. This leaves their animal unattached, after the evaluator just told them how to do it properly.

Obviously nerves got the best of them, and they were neither listening nor thinking clearly. It's a great example of how practice can make an evaluation go smoothly.

The solution is to practice the exercises until they become a matter of routine. Like walking across a room.

Accepting a Friendly Stranger at Home Depot

Simulating an Evaluation

In order to prepare for an evaluation, you must practice in new environments, with strangers, and with the right equipment. A dog that performs perfectly in your living room may be distracted by a new environment; a dog that cuddles with family may bolt when a stranger attempts a hug; and a dog that's fine using your leash to practice Stay in Place may bark at a rope.

Home Depot, Lowes, PetCo and PetSmart allow people to bring dogs inside; check with them about other species. And make sure they understand that your animal is not a service animal.

Most shoppers will be happy to roleplay an exercise with you. But before they approach your animal and become friendly with it, explain that you are practicing and direct them in how to play their role.

Some key exercises to practice in a new setting:

Accepting a Friendly Stranger:  Your dog should stay by your side when you greet the stranger.

Walk Through a Crowd:  Your dog should keep to your side as you navigate around the others.

Sit & Down on Cue:  Occasionally a dog is doing just fine in an evaluation until asked to sit, at which time it blanks-out under the stress.

Come When Called:  Use a rope, not a leash. And practice switching from one to the other.

Reaction to a Neutral Dog:  Arrange for another team to meet you, and keep the dogs from seeing each other until you attempt the exercise.

Crowded and Petted by Several People:  Practice advocating for our animal, and telling people how your animal likes to be petted.

Resist being too friendly in order to create a stressful environment similar to an evaluation.

I must tell everyone that Muka doesn't like his beard touched. If your animal is fine being petted anywhere, you'll have a harder time remembering to advocate for your animal.

Your Performance Counts Too

You and your animal are scored independently for each exercise, and then as a team you receive the lower of your two scores.

You must be proactive and practice PETS and YAYABA the entire time you are at the evaluation site. If you are not familiar with these terms described in the Pet Partners Handler Guide, you are not ready to evaluate.

If your animal is doing so well that you don't remain close, touch and talk to it, and direct others in handling it, you will receive a Not Ready. Your evaluator can't score you on acts you don't perform.

Always be part of the process; never stand back as an observer. This means that you will be role-playing with the evaluator and volunteers as if you are on a visit, and handling your animal along with them.

If they bend over or crouch down to pet your animal, you should do the same. Touching your animal gives it assurance that it is safe with you in this strange environment.

If you are physically unable to get down with your animal, explain your situation to your evaluator so that they will not misinterpret your lack of involvement.

It might not be necessary to be touching your animal during every interaction while visiting, but it is necessary in a stressful situation. Like an evaluation.

Done Poorly:  The handler is simply observing, detached from the action

Done Well:  The handler is showing interest, interacting with her dog and the evaluator

Evaluation Day Checklist

Your animal must be bathed and groomed, and wearing the Acceptable Equipment you will use on visits. Bandanas and vests may be worn during visits, but not during your first evaluation.

You should be looking professional with no jeans, shorts, t-shirts, open-toe shoes, or strong smell of perfume, cologne or tobacco; and no smell of alcohol.

Arrive early so you don't feel rushed, and consider making time to take your animal for a walk.

Be sure to give your animal the opportunity to relieve itself before your evaluation begins.

Be prepared to present the following items to your evaluator:

Certificate of Course Completion or your ID badge if you are renewing

Completed Handler's Questionnaire, available to download in the Resource Library

Proof of current rabies vaccination such as a certificate, vaccination records, or a signed Animal Health Screening Form (rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and birds are exempt)

 Animal Health Screening Forms are available to download in the Resource Library. They may be submitted either before or after passing your evaluation, and are not required at your evaluation unless used as proof of rabies vaccination.

A treat for the Offered a Treat exercise (treats are otherwise not allowed during your evaluation)

A soft brush without any metal or rigid plastic that is suitable for visiting

A towel, small blanket or basket, if your animal will be placed on a table or laps

If you are requesting modifications to evaluation exercises or permission to use equipment not listed as acceptable, a letter of accommodation provided to you by Pet Partners

There are additional requirements for children, and those evaluating with animals they do not own.

And lastly, here are some Evaluation Reminders you can print.

Tips for the Evaluation Exercises

In order for the tips to be meaningful, you must first become familiar with each exercise as described in the Pet Partners Handler Guide. In addition, you also need to review the evaluation overview and score sheets for your species, available in the Resource Library of the Pet Partners Volunteer Center.

Follow along on the evaluation overview for your species as you study the tips for each exercise, below.

Predictable and Complex Ratings

Each exercise in the evaluation is scored a 1, 2, or Not Ready. If you receive a score of Not Ready in any exercise, your evaluation will be stopped.

Predictable:  To receive a Predictable rating, you must receive a score of 1 or 2 in every exercise.

Complex:  To receive a Complex rating, you must receive a score of 1 or 2 in every exercise, and you must receive a score of 2 in the 9 exercises marked with a.

You and your animal are scored independently for each exercise, and then as a team you receive the lower of your two scores.

Reviewing the Handler's Questionnaire

First impressions count!

A woman walked through the door with a large, energetic dog. The evaluator approached her and asked if she had her paperwork, brush, and treat for her dog.

I watched in amazement as she rifled through her huge shoulder bag looking for these things. It seemed to take forever, and all the while her dog was pulling this way and that at the end of its long leash, making her task more difficult.

Not once during this process did she look to see what her dog might be getting into; she just jerked on the leash to pull it back when its pulling interfered with her search.

Enter the room with your paperwork, brush and treat in a bag ready to hand to your evaluator. Your attention should be on your animal, which should always be within reach.

You will be allowed to walk around the room while your evaluator looks over your paperwork. If your animal will be walking in any of the exercises, be sure to let it walk now so it won't be distracted by scents in later exercises.

You will be asked not to interact with the volunteers as you walk around the room, so do not roleplay as you will in other exercises. Mind that your animal is well-behaved and doesn't get its nose where it doesn't belong, such as someone's handbag or a tabletop.

Stress Signs:  You must be prepared to discuss your animal's stress signs and what you do when you see them, or your evaluator may score you as Not Ready.

Before Your Evaluation Begins:  Inform your evaluator of anything they should know about you or your animal. For example, that you have a physical limitation and are not able to kneel down beside your animal; or that your animal tucks its tail most anytime and it's not a sign of stress.

Accepting a Friendly Stranger

Animals on the Ground:  When meeting someone you know, you likely let your animal go ahead of you. But in meeting a client, you cannot allow this unless the person is showing an outward interest in meeting your animal. Otherwise you cannot be sure they don't dislike or fear animals, or have allergies to them.

In this exercise your animal is to stay by your side as your evaluator approaches and greets you.

Have your animal sit or lie at your side. This way if it starts to get up, you can be proactive and reach down and take control before it tries to approach your evaluator.

If your animal is on your right, consider greeting your evaluator with your left hand so what your right hand remains free to control your animal.

Accepting Petting

If you skipped down to these tips, go back and read Your Performance Counts Too. If you don't roleplay you will get a Not Ready.

How does your animal like to be petted? Most dogs don't appreciate a hand reaching down to their heads, as most people are inclined to do. Many llamas and alpacas don't like their faces, legs, feet or rear touched. Who would know?

Be proactive in minimizing stress by guiding everyone who pets your animal. Demonstrate how your animal enjoys being petted, and your touch will reassure your animal.

Animals on the Ground:  As in the previous exercise, your animal should stay by your side. Practice this exercise with someone circling around you.

Appearance and Grooming

Note that this exercise applies to you, too! No jeans, shorts, t-shirts or open-toe shoes.

Animals Other than Birds:  Be sure to bring a soft brush that a mentally or physically-challenged person could use to brush your animal without harming it, one without any metal or rigid plastic. And be sure to practice having strangers brush your animal with it.

Out for a Walk

Those who do well in this exercise are almost always speaking to their animals as they walk. Encourage your animal, and give it accolades for doing well throughout this and every exercise.

Animals on the Ground:  While you are expected to demonstrate loose leash heeling, it's also expected that your leash will tighten when you guide your animal.

Consider using a 4-foot leash for evaluating and visiting. Since your animal should always be within reach, a longer leash only becomes a burden.

The clasp is hanging down

What Is a Loose Leash?

If you tell someone that their leash is too tight, they most always lengthen it. This simply places their animal further from their side, and their leash remains tight.

Evaluators are not looking for a leash that is long; they are looking for a leash that is not tight. As you see in the photo, the clasp is hanging down.

Earning a Complex Rating

A loose lead is required for a Complex rating, while some tight lead is acceptable for a Predictable rating. A tight lead will earn you a Not Ready.

An animal that is heeling well is walking with their handler, both physically and mentally. Keeping your animal's attention will help reduce the chances that it will wander.

You are not ready to visit if your animal pulls, chases after those you pass, or continually stops to smell. Walking at a brisk pace may help to make distractions less tempting.

During the heeling exercises, maintain the mindset that you are demonstrating loose leash heeling to your evaluator and you won't be caught unaware that your leash was tight.

Walk Through a Crowd

In visiting a facility, you won't have time to visit with everyone you see. And some people dislike or fear animals, or have allergies. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate your ability to pass through a crowd, navigating around people without interaction.

The tips for Out for a Walk, above, also apply to this and other exercises in which your animal will be heeling.

Reaction to Distractions

This exercise demonstrates that your animal is comfortable around moving objects, and that it can deal with sudden, loud noises. It incorporates a visual distraction in front of you and an auditory distraction behind you.

As is the case with every exercise, your actions are being evaluated as well as your animal's. You are expected to proactively guide your animal around moving objects, and to support your animal by checking in with it after you hear the noise.

The auditory distraction can be pretty loud, so practice this at home. And make sure it happens when your animal isn't looking.

Even if your animal seems oblivious to the noise, still check in with it to demonstrate to your evaluator that you are advocating for your animal:  "What was that, Rover? Good boy!"

Either check in with your animal "on the move," or stop only briefly. If your animal does react, you want to demonstrate that it can recover quickly. So get on with it and complete the exercise.

Llamas and Alpacas:  The visual distraction will be something small, moving on the ground in front of your animal's feet.

Other Animals:  The visual distraction will be a piece of medical equipment such as a walker or wheelchair. Be sure to practice with a walker or similar object, and if a wheelchair isn't handy a shopping cart outside your supermarket will work well.

Carried Animals:  Even though you are carrying your animal, check in with it to demonstrate that you are being proactive in keeping it from becoming stressed.

Sit on Cue

Down on Cue

Your dog may sit and down immediately in your living room, but it can be a different story in a stressful situation. This is why you need to get out and practice in environments as similar to an evaluation setting as possible.

Here are some tips to help you in the stressful environment of an evaluation:

1. Before you give a cue, make sure you have your dog's attention and that it is looking into your eyes.

2. If your dog knows hand signals, give both a verbal cue and a hand signal simultaneously. The verbal cue and hand signal must be given simultaneously or they will count as two cues.

3. A common mistake is to show impatience and give rapid, multiple cues. You will get a Not Ready for the exercise if you give more than 3 cues.

4. If your dog doesn't respond to your first cue immediately, give it some time before acting. If it still doesn't respond, giving another cue under the same conditions is likely to get the same result. You need to do a "reset."

Walk your dog around you in a little circle. This is just a quick little move; you are not walking around the room. But as you do it talk to your dog to get its attention, or more to the point, pull its attention back from whatever was distracting it. Complete the little circle and with your dog looking into your eyes give a second cue.

A reset can be very helpful to pull your dog's attention back to you, especially in the stressful environment of an evaluation. However, if you need to use multiple resets, your dog is not ready for visiting. It would not be practical to do frequent resets while visiting with clients.

Passed Between Three Strangers

While your animal sits briefly on each of three volunteers' laps, you are not only welcome to speak to it, but you may pet it to further give it comfort. Observe which volunteer makes your animal most comfortable, as your evaluator may give you the opportunity to select a volunteer to be used in Stay in Place on a Table or Lap.

Never place your animal directly on a lap. It must be placed on a towel, small blanket, or kept in a container such as a basket. And you must always hold onto its leash, something that's easy to forget when you are busy handling a towel or blanket.

Be careful to ensure that your animal is comfortable on a lap before letting go of it. If it doesn't feel secure, it might scramble its feet and look as if it's struggling to jump off. Not something your evaluator wants to see.

Back Between Furniture

Horses, Donkeys, Llamas and Alpacas:  There is no video at this time. Please refer to Pet Partners documentation as directed above.

Stay in Place

Horses, Donkeys, Llamas, Alpacas and Miniature Pigs:  Holding the leash, you stand to the side of your animal for 30 seconds. You may speak to your animal, but not touch it.

The distance you stand from your animal is 4 feet for horses and donkeys; 2 feet for llamas and alpacas; and 3 feet for miniature pigs.

Be sure to stand to the side of your animal, as it is less likely to follow you if you move to its side rather than out in front of it.

Dogs Other Than Very Small, Carried Dogs:

Get a piece of heavy cord for a small dog, or rope for a large dog, and make a 10-foot line for practice. Dogs have been known to balk at the line in this exercise when their handlers only used a leash in practice, or used no leash at all.

Tips that would have helped handlers pass this exercise:

1. Always attach the line before removing your leash, and vice versa, else your dog will be free and not under your control. And for the same reason be sure that you are always holding the leash or line that is attached to your dog.

Don't think you don't need to practice switching the leash and line because it sounds like something a second-grader could do. Under the pressure of your evaluation, you're a first-grader.

2. Untangle and unwind the line before beginning the exercise.

Don't coil the line, uncoiling it as you walk away from your dog; or coil it up as you return to your dog. This only prolongs the exercise.

Once set up, this exercise can be completed in 7 seconds:  2 seconds to walk to the end of the line; a 3-second pause as directed by your evaluator; another 2 seconds to return. The typical handler greatly prolongs the exercise at their own peril.

3. Put your dog in a sit or down so it can't move toward you, and if it starts to get up you can repeat the stay cue. But do this last in preparing for the exercise, or it may get up again.

4. Maintain eye contact with your dog as you walk to the end of the 10-foot line. Not only is turning your back on your dog counter-intuitive to Pet Partners' philosophy of proactively managing our animals, but maintaining eye contact is as good as saying, "Stay put!"

Picture yourself placing a cookie in front of a small child, telling them not to touch it, and leaving the room. Good luck!

Now picture the same scenario, only instead of leaving the room you stand there looking into the child's eyes. Much better odds.

5. For stay, my hand signal is a stop sign made pretty much right in my dog's face. I use that simultaneously with my auditory cue, and I hold my "stop sign" as I walk away. Between my eye contact and my hand signal, he gets the message.

Stay in Place on a Table or Lap

Most handlers will choose the comfort of a warm lap over a table to demonstrate that their animal can stay put for 30 seconds. During this exercise you can talk to your animal, but not pet it.

Step Up and Stay in Place for Birds

Birds:  There is no video at this time. Please refer to Pet Partners documentation as directed above.

Come When Called

Reaction to a Neutral Dog

This is one of the most difficult exercises for many dog teams, and yet it is extremely important as you will encounter other dogs on your visits.

Carried Animals:  This exercise is easy to pass with a carried animal, so long as it doesn't react poorly to seeing the neutral dog.

Walked Animals:

The following tips are written for dogs that are walked, but some apply to other animals as well:

1. When the neutral dog is about to be brought into the room, tell your dog before your dog sees it and tells you.

Practice this on your dog walks when you see another dog before your dog sees it. Get down with your dog and say something like, "Doggie, no bark." This will teach your dog how to behave when you tell it there is another dog approaching.

If your dog gets in a quick little bark or two, it may be okay with your evaluator to continue if you get it under control right away, though you would receive a score of 1 at best. But signs of aggression are not acceptable, whether in the form of barking, growling, or non-vocal body language.

2. A loose leash is required for a Complex rating, and some loose leash is required just to pass. But it's not the time to show off your loose leash skills with any excess. You may need to act quickly to guide your dog.

3. Your dog is not allowed to cross your midline toward the neutral dog. That's a straight line going forward and backward from between your eyes.

Many times I have seen a handler act surprised when they were told that their dog crossed over their midline behind them.

When it's time to go visit the seated person, direct your dog's attention away from the neutral dog and toward the person you will be visiting. To help facilitate this, walk your dog straight to the person, which means that as you approach the person you will be off to the side.

Overall Handling

Exuberant and Clumsy Petting

Restraining Hug

Supporting your animal is key to success in these exercises. For most animals, this means talking to them and petting them along with your evaluator. It's like holding a child's hand when they are doing something scary.

These exercises call for your evaluator to pet your animal and speak to it in an unusual manner, and then give it a hug. Even though you know your evaluator won't hurt your animal, remember that you are role-playing that you are on a visit and demonstrate advocating for your animal.

As soon as you see your evaluator petting clumsily, ask them to pet your animal softly and demonstrate how. As soon as you hear your evaluator speaking oddly, ask them to speak softly and demonstrate how. Before your evaluator hugs your animal, ask them to do it gently.

The handler is being proactive to ensure that their dog doesn't lick

Do these things even if your animal would enjoy such interactions, as you are scored for your behavior. You can't receive a positive score for something you don't do.

Animals that Like to Lick:  It will probably be okay with your evaluator if your animal gets in a quick lick or two, so long as you are proactive in stopping it. But it can be a problem when your evaluator hugs your animal.

Place your hands on your animal's face as you pet it to keep it from licking. You won't be cheating; you are simply being proactive in ensuring your animal's good behavior.

Staggering and Gesturing Individual

Angry Yelling

In these exercises it is important that you give attention to the volunteers acting out their roles. If the two volunteers start their yelling while you are still visiting with the "staggering and gesturing" person, take notice of them. Wouldn't you do that anywhere else if someone in the room started yelling? Of course you would. You could be in danger.

And with all the action going on, it will be all the more important that you tend to your animal to ensure its comfort and safety.

If a walker is used in this exercise, offer the volunteer using it a chair. If they decline, walk your animal around to the side of the walker. This way they won't be reaching over the walker, and your animal won't end up under it.

Large Animals:  It might not be safe to have a large animal approach a person using a walker. If they decline the chair, consider stopping short on your approach and then asking them to approach you.

Very Small Dogs and Cats:  Even if you choose to walk your dog or cat so that you don't have to carry it in similar circumstances on visits, you can pick them up to visit in these exercises.

Approach the volunteers, pick your animal up for the visit, then put it back down to complete the exercise so that it's clear that you are not performing the exercise with a carried animal.

Two-Fingered Tap

This exercise demonstrates that you can help your animal recover from the surprise of a tap from a person your animal didn't see coming.

Even if your animal seems oblivious to the tap, still check in with it to demonstrate to your evaluator that you are advocating for your animal: "What was that, Rover? Good boy!"

Bumped from Behind

There is no video at this time. Please refer to Pet Partners documentation as directed above.

This exercise demonstrates that you can help your animal recover from the surprise of a bump from a person your animal didn't see coming.

Even if your animal seems oblivious to the bump, still check in with it to demonstrate to your evaluator that you are advocating for your animal: "What was that, Rover? Good boy!"

Crowded and Petted by Several People

Be sure to join the group in petting your animal, as it will very likely feel comfortable so long as you are one of the group. And be sure to interact with the group, both in conversation about your animal and in giving them instructions on how to pet it.

Animals that become overwhelmed with all the attention either become too exuberant, or frightened and pull back. In either case advocate for your animal by asking the volunteers to move slowly, speak softly, pet gently, take turns... whatever is necessary to best support your animal.

Horses, Donkeys, Llamas and Alpacas:  While household pets are often raised in busy homes, these animals may find such chaos disturbing. Because of their size and the danger of them hurting someone with a sudden reaction, they must be comfortable with unexpected movements such as their legs being grabbed, someone reaching under them, or their being bumped by furniture or equipment.

Leave It

Dogs:  Do not rely solely only on your dog's training, leaving it up to your dog not to make contact. I have seen handlers give a leave it cue, then do nothing more as their dog walks up and takes the toy.

Also there is no reason to walk slowly past the toy, tempting your dog all the more. Walk briskly past it. And there is no reason to walk your dog closer to the toy than instructed by your evaluator, approximately 2 feet.

If you have to struggle with your dog to get past the toy, is it ready to visit safely? This exercise is usually performed with an old toy, but on visits your dog will find much more enticing and possibly dangerous objects. You should master this exercise with your dog's favorite food and toy.

Cats:  For carried cats, your evaluator will pass by you carrying a toy to test your cat's reaction.

Llamas and Alpacas:  A plant is used in place of a toy. Also see the suggestions for dogs, above.

Pigs:  The exercise is modified to test for food aggression by serving then removing a bowl of food. Please refer to the Evaluation Overview for Pigs as directed above.

Birds:  The exercise is modified to test for a peck response to a shiny object. Please refer to the Evaluation Overview for Birds as directed above.

Offered a Treat

This exercise demonstrates that you know how to explain to a client how to safely give your animal a treat, and that your animal can gently take a treat from a client's hand.

Don't miss a beat when your evaluator asks, "May I offer your dog a treat?" Demonstrate how as you reply, "Yes, please place it in the (face-up) palm of your hand and hold it down here (below your dog's mouth)."

Your animal should not approach the evaluator until the treat has been offered.

Two important reminders:

1. You are not allowed to carry treats with you during your evaluation. You will give your evaluator the treat you brought for this exercise before your evaluation begins.

2. If you do not wish to have clients give your animal treats, you may decline when your evaluator presents you with a treat and asks if they can offer it to your animal. But even if you decline, the exercise demonstrates that your animal is well-behaved in the presence of a treat. That's an important skill, as clients will be offering your animal treats.

3. If you decline the treat, it will be noted in your records. You will have to re-evaluate before clients will be allowed to give your animal treats, and non-compliance will void insurance coverage.