I wrote this piece as one of the lead articles in our 2017 annual print publication Bright Spot NEWS. I thought it would be helpful to my general readership to post it here on SayHelloSpot because many people interested in doing therapy dog work contact me asking what steps they should take to prepare their dogs for therapy dog training,
This is the journey one recently certified Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team took to prepare…
On one of her frequent visits to the Westhampton Public Library, Nancy Ronan picked up an issue of Bright Spot NEWS. The headline caught her attention and she wanted to read more.
It was our 10th anniversary issue highlighting the programs we established in our first decade of bringing comfort and caring to those who need it most. Inside the issue, several volunteers wrote about what it meant to them to volunteer with their dogs, and facilities directors wrote about the impact the therapy dog visits had on those receiving them. All of this piqued Nancy’s interest. The idea of sharing her dog with others appealed to her. An animal lover her entire life, she and her three daughters own three horses and have had several dogs through the years. Nancy knew, though, that their current dog was too old to take on the job of a therapy dog, so she tucked the idea away in the back of her mind. Someday she would do this.
Comet, a handsome, energetic Golden Retriever pup entered the Ronan household after their beloved senior dog passed.
They first laid eyes on Comet when he and his siblings were just two weeks old. It was a litter of four-one female and three males. The Ronan’s had first pick of the males at eight weeks of age. It was Comet who chose us, said Nancy. He came right over to us and licked our faces. He made his choice and home he went with the Ronans where training began right away. Having trained five dogs before Comet, Nancy knew the importance of socialization, of interacting with lots of people and other dogs. She began taking Comet everywhere she went-outdoor concerts, the town library, Easthampton Feed, Dave’s, Tractor Supply, the town hall on voting day, the bank, walks on the bike trail, car rides and to busy areas with lots of noise and people. Wherever dogs were allowed, Comet went and he was definitely showing signs of being a sociable boy.
Classes began right away, as well, first with Puppy Kindergarten where much of class time is playtime with the other puppies.
The name game was introduced to teach the pup the very important skill of responding when his name is called. The instructor exposed the youngsters to different surfaces, like a grated surface, and to things like umbrellas, hats, and other objects that might be foreign to them. In addition, the basic commands of sit and down were introduced. Basic Obedience Class followed where skills were expanded to stay, come, heel, and leave it. After a holiday break, the team of Nancy and Comet started up anew with Basic Agility, Intermediate Obedience, then Outdoor Etiquette. This class took place in Child’s Park in Northampton where the dogs were exposed to real-life distractions, such as squirrels and people walking their dogs. This proved to be a challenge for Comet who pulled quite a bit on his leash. Nancy continued building the relationship between Comet and herself by taking the Canine Good Citizen Class and Nosework. All the while, Nancy kept working on Comet’s socialization.
Comet turned a year old in May-the minimum age for a dog to start Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team Training. Nancy signed up for the next available class, giving her three months to work on Comet’s weak points and reinforcing the skills taught in their classes. Nancy felt confident that Comet was well prepared and ready to give-it-a-go.
With the class sessions running two full hours, she was concerned about Comet’s ability to hold-it-together for that length of time. But.. The way the class is structured, with lots of activities and practice, Comet settled right into the pace and we both enjoyed ourselves. The role-playing as patients using a walker, a wheelchair, a cane, and lying in bed was a lot of fun and useful. And, the array of distractions put out by the instructor to reinforce the leave it command was challenging and helpful.
With Therapy Dog Team Training behind them, the evaluation at an area nursing home came next.
Although the training course prepared the team with the basic skills and techniques they would use while visiting, Nancy reports that she was nervous going into the evaluation. But the evaluator coached us through the visits, offering suggestions and tips, making the evaluation like an additional training opportunity for Comet and me, putting us both at ease. All of Nancy and Comet’s work over the past twelve months paid off. Both handler and dog passed the evaluation with high marks and were ready to begin a new role as a certified Bright Spot Therapy Dog Team.
Now the final step: where to do their visiting.
Having had personal experience working with elders, Nancy felt that Comet was a perfect nursing home dog. They now make weekly visits to the residents at the Beaven Kelly Rest Home where Comet delights the elders and staff with his outgoing, friendly personality. In addition, the team participates in our Every-Third-Saturday-of-the-Month Bright Spot Group Visits at the Soldiers Home, and our group therapy dog stress-relief events on college campuses. When Comet has had more time to mature and settle into his new role, Nancy hopes to become involved with hospice work and our Bright Spot Reading Buddy Program.