A few years ago I got a call from a lovely woman named Sharee. She had recently purchased a Doodle puppy who she had named “Hope,” a name which was turning out to be a bad fit!
Hope was only ten to twelve weeks of age but was leaving her owner extremely distraught and hope-less with her active, ornery, yet bouncy personality. As soon as she was old enough to begin her formal training, Hope was dropped off at our facility for our board and train live-in program, jokingly called “boot camp.” While Hope’s time away gave Sharee some relief and time to heal the wounds on her arms and legs, there was concern that her personality might prove to be too much even after training.
I will admit that Hope was a home wrecker! She tore up my yard, muddied my windows, chewed everything in sight, and required constant attention. She, however, took to the actual “work” portion of the program. She was amazing when performing her new skills and exercises. My little grandson could even take her through her obedience paces with no problems. It was when she wasn’t “on the clock” that all heck broke loose… every time!!!
Following her stay with us I would keep in touch with Sharee. She and I had become great friends as we would troubleshoot particular issues of Hope’s invention. There were challenges in keeping up with this vibrant dog, but Sharee persisted in getting her out in public settings, going to parks, and usually keeping up on all she had learned.
When Hope was a little older, Sharee began training Hope to be a therapy dog under the guidance of a therapy dog organization. I have to admit that I nearly burst with pride when I saw the pictures of her last week at Reynolds High School in Portland, Oregon, providing love and comfort to the kids who were reeling from the horrific school shooting which left two students dead.
Sharee and Hope have proven to me that if you love enough and work hard, the most difficult dogs can go on to be wonderful companions and assets to our world. The old saying that a dog needs a job certainly comes to mind with regards to Hope. When working as a therapy dog she is calm and collected. On her “off” time she still loves to tear up the turf with other Doodles, especially her new adopted sister, Jinzg.
Training your dog to be a therapy dog is a noble endeavor. Naturally, the dog needs to be of suitable, happy temperament to be around strangers who may seem odd to most dogs in their movements, medical equipment, etc. They must be able to tolerate touching from every angle and hugging, which can put some dogs into a state of stress. Also important is their ability to stay calm with distractions and noises that are unfamiliar. If you think your dog may have these qualities, then perhaps using your dog to give emotional support to others may be very rewarding.
Therapy dogs visit hospitals, schools, clinics, nursing homes, hospices, and places in crisis response such as Hope did the day after a school shooting. Most facilities require that you and your dog be registered with a therapy dog organization that provides thorough testing. The evaluation is usually similar to the Canine Good Citizen test.
Skills to be mastered might include:
- meeting & accepting strangers
- accepting petting and going over body
- loose lead walking
- walking through a crowd & with distractions/noises
- sit & down on command
- sit or down/stay
- recall (come) from a stay
- passing a stranger with dog
- tolerating petting/hugging by stranger
- being bumped from behind
- leave it command
- taking a treat gently
The dog must have a pleasant demeanor that is both friendly and confident. There should be no jumping or nipping and the handler should be able to redirect the dog if needed.
Obviously, the foundation for any activity you choose for your dog involves basic obedience skills combined with proper socialization. The dog must have learned through training and experience to behave in a mannerly fashion. Stretching yourself and your dog to this level will not only help society if you choose to volunteer, but provide an enriched life for you and your wonderful canine companion.
Hope has taught me that you don’t quit on an overly active, seemingly naughty dog. You instead work harder to provide an outlet for all of the pent up intelligence and energy. Having Faith, Relying on Hope, with a little Love thrown in can surely create a miracle for you and others!!