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.