James and I had a great visit today with the hospice patient we’ve been visiting weekly for the past five months. Usually she’s sitting in her wheelchair – and, due to her condition, she often has a hard time reaching James to pet him (we of course work very hard, James and I, to make it possible for her to touch his soft silky fur). Today, we found her lying in bed. She was quick to tell us that she wasn’t sick, they just wanted her to lie in bed to change her position. As always, she was delighted to see us – and was even more delighted when I had James get up on her bed, lie down along side of her and put his head on her chest. A broad smile appeared on her face. She was able to easily stroke his head and ears and talk to him face-to-face. Such a special visit!
I’ve found through the years that some dogs are just naturals. Really, they were born to be therapy dogs. Others evolve into great therapy dogs. Some dogs – as wonderful as they are at home, are just not cut out to be therapy dogs. I’ve experienced all three – and in between – with my own dogs.
Starting your puppy off right gives you a good shot at working toward therapy dog certification. Socialization is key to having a puppy evolve into a dog that can go anywhere and meet and greet anyone. Beginning early is great: take rides in the car, walk with a friend who has a dog, go to a park – or other place where you’re sure to meet up with lots of people. Try to meet up with people of all ages… your dog must be socialized with children if you happen to want to do therapy dog visiting with that age group. Look for people in wheelchairs, walkers, and canes – go up and tell them that you are training your dog to be a therapy dog and ask them to pet your dog. The more you do this, the better off your dog will be – whether you pursue therapy dog work or just want a well-adjusted canine family member. I can’t stress this enough – and it’s the thing I bring up first at the start of every class I teach – What did you do this week to socialize your dog?
With everyone’s hectic schedules, I know it’s easier said then done, but it’s the most important thing you can do for your dog – and it helps to build a strong bond between you and your pal. It should be fun – not work – it’s part of having a dog. It should be part of your everyday living. If you are one of those lucky people who can bring your dog to work with you, this is a golden opportunity not to be missed. Definitely take advantage of this and have your dog interact with lots of people. If you work primarily out of a home office, as I do, the challenge is to get out… your dog isn’t going to get enough interaction from the mailman or the neighbor across the fence. Whatever your circumstances happen to be, it’s critical to your dog’s development that you work very hard on this first step.