Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Therapy Dog In The Making

This is Maggie when she was just 12 weeks old.   Last month, at 1 year of age,  Maggie completed Therapy Dog Prep School.  It was an awesome class, lots of great people and dogs.  The majority of the class had started training with me when their dogs were just little pups, so I've been able to watch them grow.    When I first meet people,  their dogs are rambunctious little puppies.  The first night of class,  which is a New Student Orientation,  I remind everyone that the journey from puppyhood to Therapy Dog is about 1 to 2 years.    During this time we are going to be training but we are also going to let our puppy enjoy being a puppy.  This should include lots of playtime, rest, socialization, adventures, hiking, swimming and even a little mischief :)   The best Therapy Dogs are those who are well adjusted dogs.  All too often people think that Therapy Dogs are all business and  that they don't get to have fun or worse yet, that they should never make mistakes.  The truth is, there are no perfect dogs, and that includes Therapy Dogs.  While Therapy Dogs do need to have above average training and exemplary temperaments, they are still dogs.   Going through the training process is what helps us determine if Therapy Dog Work is the right career choice for our dog.   It's impossible to look at a 10 week old puppy and say beyond a shadow of a doubt 'he will make a GREAT Therapy Dog'.  We can look at personality traits, sound temperament,  sociability, but only time will tell.    So what do you do while you wait?  You train and have fun. 

When I developed Therapy Dog Prep School it was to help others prepare their dogs for the testing process and Therapy Dog Work.  While I was raising and training my own dogs years ago,  I realized that there was nothing available in the way of training to help me prepare for this process.  I wanted to have a better understanding of what the actual visits would be like.  The only information I received was to take the CGC Test.  While I think the CGC is a good gauge of a dogs basic obedience skills I don't think it gives us enough insight into how a dog will perform in a medical setting or as a working Therapy Dog. 

In Therapy Dog Prep we are working on obedience skills, teaching advanced skills to use on visits and addressing very common problems such as licking, jumping, over excitement, rude greetings, etc.  When the dogs enter class on week one,  it's fairly common for them to be jumping for attention, licking when you pet them and having trouble settling.   By graduation night the progress is amazing, it's always fun to watch the transformation.   Therapy Dogs Prep School helps people prepare their dogs for a variety of careers in Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Therapies. 

On April 22, 2011 Maggie became a registered Therapy Dog.  She passed all 3 phases of the testing process with flying colors.  Her Mom is looking forward to volunteering in the community and sharing Maggie with others.   Her Mom also knows that 'all work and no play, does not make a very happy Maggie' so her days will still be filled with play, swimming, chasing squirrels and other doggie pleasures. 

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