Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Therapy Dogs Incorporated (Test and First Observation Visit)

At long last, Perri had a test to become a therapy dog this evening.   And I could not be more proud!  I chose Therapy Dogs Incorporated as our organization after hitting more than a few walls with Therapy Dogs International (and really - per their new testing requirements, group stays?  C'mon now.   My dog can do a group stay, but is it a valuable behavior for a therapy dog?  Probably not.)

I like the way that Therapy Dogs Incorporated does things.   We were tested on how Perri tolerated having her entire body handled - body, all feet, ears, mouth, face, belly.  She didn't flinch.   We were tested on how she handled herself around another dog.   Loose leash walking with varying paces.   Perri's reaction to a person passing close to her.  Perri's reaction to a person walking with unsteady gait.   (She was interested but not fearful or barking.)
We passed!  YAY!

What I like most about TDInc is that they require three to four observation visits.   They don't just test you and let you loose.   Perri and I had our first observation visit tonight following our test.
I did not know what to expect from Perri.   I know: that she likes people.   That she can be frightened of noises or strange situations.  That she finds other dogs to be a little overwhelming during the greeting phase (she gave our partner Mo the Lab a huge submissive grin upon meeting him this evening.)

I was pleasantly surprised.   I can't gush about how Perri walked around the nursing home with some old world magic poodle attitude and deep understanding of the need to connect with people.   Perri was normal!   She did not bark.   She did try to jump up on a few people (employees who were askin' for it!) but I stopped her.   She wanted to sniff and possibly eat some crumbs.   She did like the smell of urinals.

But she also greeted more than a few people with waggy tail and gave kisses.   She was polite and charming.   She did her sit pretty trick many times and it made the patients happy.  She was interested in the entire environment.  People were full of compliments on how beautiful she was, but they were very unsure of her breed.  Greyhound?  Great Dane?   "Rabbit Dog?"   I proudly told them that this is a poodle under all that hair!

She was also overwhelmed by it.   There was an elevator.  There were alarm bells for patients who had "escaped" their bed or chair.  There were oxygen machines.   There were patients in wheelchairs.  There were patients with wounds.  We took a lot of breaks to do her tricks and reconnect.   Our tester took a moment to love up on Perri and rebuild her confidence, and she did keep remarking on how sweet Perri was.   She said that her dog has been doing this over nine years and she has noticed that a dog can work about an hour at most and then they are mentally done.   Perri worked about that long tonight.   This is going to be another of many ways for Perri's confidence to grow and for our bond to strengthen.

I am looking forwards to our next two observation visits.   I love that this organization requires supervision for your first few visits.   Doing this is intense for me and I don't know what I am doing.   Sure, it doesn't sound that difficult in theory.   But I appreciate an experienced handler watching me and my dog and showing us how it is done and reminding us of the rules.   It is helpful and an excellent way to "get our feet wet".  

I should probably teach Perri another trick very soon!


  1. That is so cool!

    So... do you think she enjoyed it? I imagine it's hard to tell the first time, since so much of it is going to be the new-kid-in-school timidity... but did you get the sense that she liked therapy work?

    I used to think Crookytail would make a good therapy dog (he is SO gentle and patient and snuffly-affectionate with our friends) but I'm afraid I trained him out of it. Oh well. He's still a great guidance counselor for the fosters.

    1. In all honesty, I thought that she would like it a whole lot more than she did! Perri loves people and she was not as connected with anybody during our visit as she normally is.
      That is likely due to the fact that Perri gets overwhelmed very easily, and is not confident. There was SO much going on that she had never ever seen before and she was trying so hard to process it all.
      One patient she did not even have any interest in, until I sat in the chair bedside. Put Perri in my lap and petted her a lot and just chatted with the patient. Before long Perri was licking that patient's hand and laying her head there. It was like she had to relax a little bit before she could enjoy yourself.

      In short: it's complicated!

      this is why I am so grateful that TDInc requires the observation visits. They only ask for three, maybe four, but I may push to have four for Perri. I think that it will be good for her and me. Four supervised visits where the pressure is not on ME to be the ringleader and I can concentrate on Perri more and acclimating her to the situation.
      Wait, that wasn't a short answer.

      Oh Crooky would be a charming therapy dog - but guidance counselor is also an excellent profession :) He's a good boy!