Eddie's best

Happiness in my world comes from having a happy dog doing the work he and I both love! If my dog is not happy going to a nursing home and all he wants to do is go home and sleep, than that is what we will do.  Therapy dogs should enjoy what they do. Unfortunately we humans can be stubborn and find it hard to give up on things that make us happy even at the cost of what our pet desires.

My 5-year-old Collie/Airedale mix Eddie knows in each nursing facility where he needs to go. So I let him lead while I tag along at the end of the leash. He knows which patients room to go to first, where the activities room is, who will give the best hugs and hip massages, who has the special dog biscuits and who doesn’t like dogs. He will make his way around the place like he owns it.  Some memory care patients even know him by name and often tell me how much they miss him when he isn’t there. He also knows when it is time to go to the elevator and head upstairs to the next floor. Too often now he makes it very clear to me when he is ready to leave and head home. Knowing your dogs limits and watching their body language is very important when working with therapy dogs or any working dog. Start out slow, it they are ready to leave after 10 minutes the first time,  that is alright. Like everything that is good for you it takes time to perfect.  If your dog should back away from a patient, turn his head away, lick his lips, or doesn’t initiate contact with them these are clear signs that your dog is unhappy. Time to move on to the next room or maybe even call it quits for the day. The best book/DVD on this is ‘Calming Signals’ by Turid Rugaas. available on Amazon.com and Dogwise.com.

If you have a small therapy dog, like a Chihuahua, and your dog is nervous when he sits on a strangers lap, practice with strangers out side of the venue that you are visiting. Place the dog on someone’s lap, standing beside them, giving your dog treats, speaking to him softly and telling him what a good boy he is for being there. Make his experience a great one, so that your dog will view it that way every time he sits on someone’s lap. Also let the person whose lap he is sitting on give him treats. If he takes them easily you know he is relaxing.

Keep your dog happy and his happiness with radiate through to others in the work that you both do, for many years to come.

Nearly everyday, I hear how a teacher or a medical professional would like to train their dog so that they can take their dog to work with them. Therapy dogs are NOT for this purpose. The ONLY dog that has public access is a Service Dog trained specifically for an individual with a disability. Both Facility and Service Dogs are trained by a service dog provider and/or dog training professional. Service Dogs have Public Access to everywhere, Facility Dogs only have access to the public facility that they work in. Facility dogs unlike therapy dogs are trained similarly to service dogs and are often times dogs that did not pass the service dog level of training. Facility dogs can be found in memory care units, nursing homes, schools, funeral homes and as a child advocate in a judicial chamber. Facility dogs are usually owned by an individual and taken to their job every day, remain with their owner at all times and then go home when the owner leaves. Facility dogs are not caged under your desk while you work at your desk all day, they are a working dog and should be treated with the respect they deserve. Facility dogs, like service dogs, work all day.

Therapy dogs on the other hand, do not work all day. If you are taking a class to volunteer with an organization to become a registered therapy dog team, then the most you should volunteer in one day with your dog is two hours! This is because your dog has not been preconditioned to the long term effects of stress from working all day, nor were they chosen to do so. Even a therapy dog needs a break and should take a break every half hour even if it is just to go outside to sniff the air. You  probably will need one too.

What to think about before taking your dog to work: Do you have insurance to cover your dog while at your workplace or will your employer cover it? If your dog bites someone or knocks over a piece of expensive equipment who is responsible? Is your dog well-behaved and capable of passing a public access test should you be asked to by your employer? Have you taken  the steps to get your dog evaluated by a professional dog trainer for working in public? These are all important and valid questions you should think about before taking your dog to work with you. Canine pets should be comfortable and happy in the environment where they work. If they enjoy their work, you will enjoy the work of helping others too. Be conscious that your dog is more sensitive to the stress around him than you are and be your dogs advocate.

For more information on Assistance Dogs International and Public Access Tests see below. http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/standards/public-access-test/

Lately we have had a surge of new volunteers coming to our therapy dog training classes with their little dogs dressed up in outfits. We have been told how much their dogs enjoy it, how they know how cute they are and how much other people love and appreciate the cute outfits that they wear when they are out. If dressing your dog in cute clothes is something you enjoy doing, of course continue to do so, just not when you and your dog are working as a therapy dog team.

Costumes for canines should be limited to special occasions where the VENUE makes a request for costumes to be worn. Halloween and Christmas are a great time for libraries and schools to request therapy dogs to come dressed in pet costumes. Many organizations are willing to cede to this where others may not. Use your best judgment when selecting a costume. Don’t go overboard. Especially since the reason you are visiting is to benefit the health of the client, not to entertain them. Plus you want them to be able to pet your dog, and sometimes a costume can hinder that.

Many small dogs do get nervous and cold when they are in new environments, so outdoor wear is acceptable. Outdoor wear is worn when getting from the outside to the inside of a venue and could be a sweater or a raincoat.  Once again these are permissible because they are considered outdoor wear only and should be removed upon arrival at the venue destination.  Most hospitals and nursing facilities are kept very warm, if not hot, for their patients so a small dog should be comfortable walking around once inside.

Therapy dogs are working dogs and should be treated with the respect that they deserve while helping others.

There is a common dream of many dog owners in the United States to put their dog out into the world to help others! It is a wonderful goal to have and pursue, whether it is to train  a SAR (search and rescue) dog, a bed-bug dog, or an Animal Assisted Activity/Therapy dog, all serve humanity with their special skills in their own unique ways.  The fun part is finding out what skills your dog has and whether you and he have the  commitment and drive to follow through with the training.  Training your dog to fulfill some of these dreams may be costly, so it is important to research ahead of time the amount of money that it may cost you to put your plan in motion.

Nose Work is a fun way to find out if your dog would enjoy doing SAR work. Your dog does not need to be a skilled  Bloodhound to enjoy this type of work.  The exercises will be fun for you too, as cardboard boxes are turned into ‘seek and find’ games. Brain games are always great exercise for your dog and actually can wear your dog out faster than physical exercise! Many dog training facilities offer Nose Work classes. If your dog has a good sniffer,  a nose work class should be fun for both of you.th[1]Another fun class to take with your dog is Trick Training. Now though some Animal Assisted Activity/Therapy organizations frown on you dressing up your dog and providing entertainment for their clients, there are times when a few tricks for a child after a successful reading session or hospital visit is a nice ending of your time together. Many children think sit, down and stay are tricks, so even if your dog does simple skills like these, a child will be happy.  Since positive reinforcement training is becoming the new norm across the nation, targeting, luring and clicker training are all great techniques to utilize in trick training. Once again these skills may be useful when working with children and adults in Animal Assisted Activity to some degree, depending on the rules of the organization that you volunteer with. Trick training will also build your dogs self confidence, which is always a good thing!  Seek out a dog training facility near you to check out a trick training class.

Therapy Dog at Work

Therapy Dog at Work

Agility, Disc, Dock Diving and Rally Obedience training are all great ways to work off some of that high energy found in some overactive  2-3 year old dogs. You may both enjoy it so much it may become a habit and you may even join one of the number of clubs across the nation. Agility, Disc and Rally are more for the physically fit as they do require running/jogging on the handlers part.  But what a great way to spend quality time with your dog. All of these classes take commitment, patience and practice. Build on the human-animal bond with your dog and with others. Disc dog

An important skill a handler needs to learn is to keep their dog on one side of them at all times. When you walk your dog at any time, outside, while training or walking in your neighborhood, ditch the Flexi-Lead and use a 4-6 foot lead keeping your dog close to you, preferably on the left side. Having used a Flexi-Lead to give my dogs more room to roam, I know how difficult it can be to bring your dog back to your side. But going back to basic training and using a shorter lead will get you and your dog back in the habit of walking side by side. A front D-ring harness, like an Easy Walk harness or a Gentle Leader head collar are good examples of equipment you can use to keep your dog closer to you. Collars with metal, like prong collars or choke chains are discouraged in therapy work as children and the elderly are more likely to get their fingers trapped or pinched beneath them. These collars are only used for TRAINING purposes.

Therapy dogs especially should walk on one side of their handlers. In AKC obedience classes with your dog, trainers teach you to use the left side. Using only one side will prevent accidents from happening. Plus when you want to teach your dog left and right turns this comes in handy. A dog should be taught to walk quietly next to you without crisscrossing in front or behind you. When a therapy dog is in a hospital, nursing home or school this is especially important because of the narrow hallways. Staff and patient activity or children running in the hallways and other distractions taking place may make your dog anxious. Keeping him close will make him feel more secure. As a handler you will not only be controlling and watching your dog for signs of stress, but will also be making note of the other activity around and ahead of them. Older adults in retirement communities often like to stop you as you are walking down the hall and visit with your dog. Keeping your dog close to you will encourage the patients to engage with your dog, while keeping them safe from tripping over a long loose leash.

Safety is not only for you and your dog but also for those that you serve in the community. Accidents can happen. The benefits of volunteering through a therapy dog organization is that they carry you on their insurance while you volunteer at their venues. That in itself is something to wag about!

In dog training everyone trains their dog differently, some with and some without food. A lot of people think that they are bribing their dogs to behave or to do specific skills, correct behaviors or commands. To help them think this idea through, one way is to have them look at how their parents raised them.

My parents gave me a butterscotch candy when I behaved or when I was able to figure out those pesky math story problems. If I made good grades in school, which were few and far between, I may have gotten to stay up late or have been allowed to go on church service trip. So let’s think this through.. reward based training with kids and dogs is really nothing new!

Dogs are especially easier to train when they get something in return for what you want them to do. After all they really only want to please you AND themselves, right! You can use the treats you buy at your local pet store, cooked hot dogs, cooked bacon, dog kibble, but whatever you use make sure it is like chocolate to your dog. Something he may not get all the time, but a treat that makes him want it all that much more! Then there are dogs who readily will work for a toss of a ball, rather then a tasty treat, but there always one isn’t there? In either case watch your fingers!

If you ask your dog for a ‘down’, in most cases you point to the ground and he lies down, you then give him a treat. Like your parents might have done, you may also want to say ‘Good Boy/Girl’, enthusiastically! If he doesn’t go down immediately, you get a treat, let him smell it and lead his nose down to the ground. If you consistently do this he will continue to follow your direction, knowing he will get your verbal approval and the treat each time. You will want to also add the word ‘down’ as he learns the behavior. Some trainers believe that the dog must learn the behavior first before the word can be attached, I am not one of them. I train using both the word and the action at the same time. If one of my dogs gets up after I have placed him in a down, I say ‘oops’, and he immediately returns to the down. Letting your dog think about why he didn’t get a treat is all part of the process.

I also incorporate clicker training into my positive reinforcement techniques. It is said that you can train a dog 50% faster by using a clicker, I have found this to be true. The clicker is much like the whistle that Sea World uses to train their Orcas. When the trainer blows the whistle the whale knows that the trick is completed and he will get a fish. Whether it is a whale or a dog it is all in the timing. Once you click (mark) your clicker for the good behavior you want to immediately give your dog a treat. If you fiddle around with your treat bag, it will be hard for you to know what your dog is being treated for, so you want to have your treat ready before you mark your dog’s behavior. Here is an example; Let’s say you call your dog to you, he comes, you mark the behavior with a clicker but you do not have the treat ready, so while you are getting it out of the bag, he sits down, when you are ready with the treat, what are you treating him for the come or the sit? Be prepared with your treat before the intended exercise is completed.

Once you have trained your dog to do a behavior for food, and he has it down, no pun intended, you can gradually pull away from giving him a treat every time. Don’t totally quit just spread the time out between treats..and pass the salami please!

Body language in dogs is similar and different depending on the situation and where you are. I have observed many different signals made by dogs when greeting people, kids, patients and other dogs. What I want to talk about here though is some of the stress signals that dogs give you when you are working in a therapy venue.

Signs of stress are common in working dogs. In hospitals with all of the bodily odors of human waste, infection, food, and disinfectant smells it is amazing to me that therapy dogs are willing to continue to visit those in need. When your dog exhibits heavy panting it may be that it is too hot in the hospital, he is thirsty or it may be caused by stress. Another reaction is when a dog turns away from the person that you want them to visit. This is a clear sign that the dog does not want to visit that person. On a recent visit with a new team I watched the dog stop abruptly in the hallway, kind of like she was skidding to a stop, and then she pivoted her body away from the man in the wheelchair we were approaching. We had been there for half an hour already so I think she was telling us she was done. Not only may a dog change it’s body direction when it becomes stressed but it may also lick it’s lips, tuck it’s tail or in extreme cases drool. If the latter is present the dog should not be working as a therapy dog due to the amount of stress they are exhibiting.

Part of your training when becoming a therapy dog team should cover the basics of dog stress. Your trainer should be able to help you decipher whether your dog’s stress level will help or hinder you in therapy work. Therapy work and the stressors that can come with it are just not for every dog or handler.


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