Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The road to becoming a therapy dog

If doing visits with a therapy dog sounds like something you want to do, and you have a dog that would enjoy it, then there's no better time to get started! Unless you've been doing regular training with your dog, it's going to take some time to get there.

Mocha doesn't like to be picked up.
Here he's being held by a stranger,
begging me with his eyes to save him.
Before I tell you what Mocha and I did to become therapy dogs, I want to be clear that this is not for every person and not for every dog. Some dogs are just not interested in people. Some dogs are afraid of sudden noises. Other dogs don't want to be picked up, or hate being touched on the head or the paw. Although I believe that most dogs can be trained to be therapy dogs, there will be dogs out there for whom it's not a good idea.

Also, be sure that you're ready to make therapy visits. Here's an example straight from my life: I can't do hospice, so I can't take Mocha to hospice. I'd cry the whole time and it would make him nervous and the patients uncomfortable. I used to work for hospice (pharmacy) and I know that it just gets me down, and that's not the person they need to see. Mocha and I do best with people who are up and about, functioning semi-independently. He also loves children, and I'd like to get him into a library or school one day. But there are just some situations that we wouldn't be right for.

Basic Training:
You're going to need to take some basic obedience classes before
you really get into the therapy dog training. This could be a puppy class or beginning obedience if your dog is older. Any dog at any age will benefit from obedience class! It's never too late to learn.

Mocha and Ninja both took Star Puppy, which is a puppy obedience class that awards a certificate at the end though the AKC. This class teaches the basics, like sit, down, heel, stay, leave it and wait. You'll want another obedience class after that, maybe Puppy II or Obedience II. These classes get a little tougher. You learn to walk the dog in any direction on either side. You teach them to wait before going through a door and how to greet other people and dogs, and many other skills.

A Little More Advanced:
Mocha and I took a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) class, which prepares you to take the CGC test that's administered through AKC. Not all pet therapy programs require this! However, some training clubs do, it all depends on where you're training and which therapy program you want to get into.

In the CGC class, we practiced walking through crowds of people and dogs. We also learned how to greet other people and dogs nicely. This is key to your therapy dog training! Some people love dogs, some are afraid of them. It's very important that your dog learns to greet people with all four paws on the ground and his tongue in his mouth!

Does your dog cry when he's not with
you? Could you leave him with
someone and walk out of the room?
Mocha also had to be ok when left with another person. I had to be able to leave him for a period of time (30 seconds maybe, I don't remember) and have him behave ok. No barking, lunging or freaking out.

The End Result:
Finally after all this practice we took the TDI test. I didn't take a class specifically designed for TDI, I just went ahead and took the test, but I'm sure you can find classes or programs out there to help finish that last phase of testing for certification.

The very hardest part of this test for Mocha was walking past food without eating it. Of course, it had to be cheese. Mocha loves cheese. But I told him to leave it and he did, because he knows I might have a very super awesome treat for him sometime soon. He also had to be able to resist food offered by another person (at my command). This is really important, especially if you're visiting a medical facility. Patients often drop their medication and the last thing you want is your dog scarfing it up, thinking it's a wonderful cookie.

How long did this take? About 3 years, off and on. We did some agility training in between obedience and CGC, so that helped a lot with his behavior. But last summer I think I spent 3 months specifically working with Mocha so he could pass the test.

So that's it! Remember, not all dogs are meant to be therapy dogs. But, if you think you have the patience and time to train your dog, pick a program and just go for it!

No comments:

Post a Comment