by Sheryl Wall
I have loved dogs ever since I was a little girl, and find that they can often cheer me up when I am sad. My dogs are so full of love that I decided I wanted them to be able to share that love with others as well. This is what planted the idea of Dog Therapy work in my head.
Therapy dogs are capable of many things. According to Kathy Diamond Davis in her book Therapy Dogs,, dogs can help decrease depression, increase cooperation, and helps meet the human need of touch. They can also help children learn to read because it’s less intimidating to read to a dog than a person. Classroom visits can also help with learning disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorders. The list of benefits is never ending. Dogs are encouragers and have endless love for people, which make them great for this job.
Not every dog meets the requirements so you need to look at the breed and temperament before starting the training process. For example, a dog with aggressive tendencies would not be a safe choice for this type of work. You need a dog that loves to be around people, enjoys going places and pleasing others.
It took a lot of training and work to get my Westies (West Highland White Terriers) ready for Therapy work. First, we took classes and trained for the first of two tests they needed to pass. The first test is the Canine Good Citizen’s test (CGC). Then they had to pass the Therapy test, for which they only have two tries to pass. Thankfully, they both passed the first time, however Cosette took around a year of training first. The dogs had to learn skills like how to leave food alone (including foods like steak or chicken) , be comfortable around equipment found in nursing homes and hospitals such as wheel chairs and crutches, be well socialized around people, kids and other dogs, and to tolerate loud noises. The hardest part of the test for both of my dogs was my going out of sight for three minutes while someone else held their leash; they had to behave and not whine. That was the hardest thing to teach them because they tend to be very vocal dogs.
Each dog has their own strengths. Cosette does best with the reading program at TL Reed School in Reedley. The children love to read to her and learn about how to care for and train a pet. Natisa on the other hand does best at retirement homes; we have been going to Palm Village almost every week for the past five years. She loves to cuddle more than Cosette does and almost everyone loves her kisses. I tried to teach her not to lick but the seniors love it so much that I just let her. It makes them happy so it’s worth it to me even though I personally don’t care for dog kisses.
My dogs are always ready when I tell them it’s time to work. They love riding in the car and all of the attention they get. When they know it’s time to go somewhere they stick so close to me while I get ready, it’s hard to keep from tripping over them.
Now I am starting my next training adventure, teaching my Irish Setter, Maiyah, how to be a Therapy dog. She has passed the first test (CGC) and now I am planning for a one-year or more of hard training before I even attempt to take the Therapy test with her. I am hopeful that with a lot of training she will be able to pass. She loves people, especially children, and would make a great Therapy Dog.
It is definitely a commitment, but it’s worth all the time and effort put into it. My dogs are much happier having a job to do and it’s all worth it to see the smiles on people’s faces.