pictured above: top left: Zeus
top right: Zip
bottom left: Zip's ultrasound a month before the puppies were born
bottom right: 7 of the 11 puppies born, January 28, 2016.
The need is great for therapy dogs. Many people would benefit from the tender, affectionate attention of a pet therapist. Many organizations have requested visits from therapy dogs and cats, but there are many more requests than animals certified to fill the need.
This raises a question we, the human half of a therapy team, often hear: HOW DOES A DOG BECOME A CERTIFIED THERAPY ANIMAL?
For a dog to transform from couch potato to certified animal therapist, and for you to be the dog’s human partner, is probably best described as a journey the two of you take together.
Whether your dog is a few years old, even several years old, or is a youngster embarking on initial training and life experiences, we look for the same traits as those listed in this Job Ad:
WANTED - THERAPIST
Looking for a Therapist who is:
- cheery, affectionate, polite and non-judgmental,
- a caring and attentive listener,
- not a food thief.
For duties in:
- Seniors’ homes, libraries, school rooms, court rooms, university dorms,
- hospital rehab, psychiatric and palliative care units,
- Santa Claus parades, charity walks and other community events.
Qualifications: Successful Candidate:
- must be house trained,
- has good manners,
- is nicely groomed,
- Must. Love. People.
As for me: Three and a half years ago – which was shortly before Misty developed her osteosarcoma, I adopted an 8 week old Smooth Collie/ LabX puppy, Delaney. My intention was to train a young dog to replace Misty in her therapy work once she “retired”. We have done (and continue to do) many dog school courses: puppy school, obedience classes, tricks, free style dance, off leash handling, scent detection, agility and we’re registered for another class to begin in two weeks.
Delaney is a highly intelligent, eager to please girl with good manners… and she’ll never, ever be a therapy dog. She is just too shy and reserved. She cannot go into a room and say to everyone there, “I love you and you and you and…” She’d rather just stay parked beside me and not have to react with strangers or their dogs.
This means that Delaney is a wonderful family dog but she will not be taking the therapy dog certification exam. That’s fine – she doesn’t have to take the exam. I still love her to bits and she’s still my baby, but neither of us will struggle to try and make her something she’s not suited to become – a therapy dog.
But where will I get my next therapy dog? Rather than go the rescue dog route again, I opted for a purebred Golden Retriever. It is important to know that rescue dogs can be highly successful therapy dogs – in fact, Misty was a not-quite-purebred dog I rescued off the TransCanada Highway in Prince Edward Island. And there is no guarantee that a purebred dog will have the chops to become a therapy dog.
With the help of Barb Kelly, a fellow handler with Therapeutic Paws of Canada, I located breeders who’ve had several of their dogs become therapy dogs: Judy and Jim Stewart of Blueheron Golden Retrievers, near Perth, Ontario. Zip is one of their many beautiful and intelligent Golden Retrievers. She was coming into season in late Fall 2015 and was bred to Zeus, a handsome young Champion from Kyon Kennels near Orangeville, Ontario. And on January 28th, 2016 Zip gave birth to 11 puppies – one of which is a female who will be coming “home” to live with Delaney and me – and maybe… maybe… one day will become a therapy dog.
This blog will chronicle Piper’s journey, where I’ll demonstrate the processes, lessons, experiences and exposures it takes to steer your pet into pet therapy… but mostly it’s about having fun with your dog. Whether your dog becomes an Animal Therapist or not, your relationship with your dog will be stronger and your dog will develop good manners… and maybe I should arrange a guest column from a Therapy Cat handler – those are parts largely unknown to me!