A blog from Snow — I’ve been in training during the past two years to perfect my role as a therapy/service dog. I have completed more than 300 hours of training with Dr. Sarah and the trainer, Nikki Major, she engaged to help us. My trainer, Nikki Major, was very good and Dr. Sarah was very patient … well … usually.
Two weeks ago I successfully completed all my training and am now a trained, certified and licensed therapy/service dog!!
Dr. Sarah is very proud of me because I had to master many tasks and we had to take videos of me doing them all correctly. She has been training during the past two years too in doing animal-assisted activity/therapy. She has completed and submitted all her certification work. So I’m also proud of her. She’s decided to continue her training at even more advanced levels. I hope continuing to learn together will be mean fun for both of us
One role of a therapy dog is to provide affection and comfort to people in their counseling sessions. Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. Some are big and others are small, like me. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog though is temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. We need to enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, even clumsily.
A therapy dog’s primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with us and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging us; adults usually enjoy simply petting us or having us lay by their side. So we need to be lifted onto, or climb onto, an individual’s lap and sit or lie comfortably there.
As a service dog I must perform a particular task to assist Sarah in managing her energy levels. I have gotten so good at my task that I can do it even without a command. I sense when she needs help. I also need to be able to behave properly not only in the counseling office but in all types of public settings.
Many of today’s service and/or therapy dogs perform these dual roles. In both roles I have to have a particular temperament and have mastered basic obedience skills like:
To be a service dog I’ve had to master many more skills like:
- No aggressive behavior toward strange people or other animals in all kinds of places- no biting, snapping, snarling, growling or lunging and barking at them when working off your property. This is not in my nature so that one has been easy
- No soliciting food or petting from other people while on duty. I love food and petting so this one was harder for me.
- No sniffing merchandise or people or intruding into another dog’s space while working.
- Be socialized to tolerate strange sights, sounds, odors etc. in a wide variety of public
settings. I love to socialize so this was not too hard but there are many distractions and for a while I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or not do.
- Ignore food on the floor or dropped in my dog’s vicinity while working outside the home. If you know me, you know this one was hard for me. We had to practice this a lot.
- Work calmly on leash in whatever circumstance like crowded stores or alongside or among shopping cards..
- Have no unruly behavior or unnecessary vocalizations in public settings. If you’ve been to our house, you know I like to bard sometimes, but I don’t bark in public. That’s not my job. But I am learning how to bark less at our house too. This is harder because truly I think of that as my job. So Sarah has had to be very appreciative of my barks but make me come to her once she knows there is something to bark at.
As a service I also had to learn to:
- Safely cross a parking lot, halt for traffic, and ignore distractions
- Heel through narrow aisles
- Hold a Sit-Stay when a shopping cart passes by or when a person stops to chat and pet me.
- Hold a Down Stay when a child approaches and briefly pets me.
- Hold a Sit Stay when someone drops food on the floor. Whoozer! I though, really? But I can do this now.
- Hold a Down Stay when someone sets a plate of food on the floor within of me and removes it a minute later. Double whoozer! Dr. Sarah was doubtful about this. But I surprised her. I can do this too now.
- Remain calm if someone else holds the leash while Dr. Sarah moves 20 feet away. I really like to be with Dr. Sarah most of all but since I even learned to do this
- Remain calm while another dog passes within 6 ft. of us in a parking lot, store or when a resident with a pet dog strolls by.
To be a service dog I also have to have a special Service Dog license from Kern County. That is a state law and I was officially licensed on October 14, 2013.
There’s a hold long list of things Dr. Sarah has had to master too, but I won’t list all those.
As a service dog I can go everywhere the public is allowed, but sometimes circumstances are such that I can’t be in Dr. Sarah’s counseling sessions. Some clients may not be comfortable having me in their session. Some adults and children are allergic to dogs. I am hypoallergenic, because I have hair not fur but someone maybe uncomfortable anyway and that’s fine with me.) Some people are afraid of dogs. I’d never want to scare them. Sometimes being in a session would demand too much of me, i.e. if a client has a little baby with them sitting on the couch. I understand all these limitations. I only want people to be able to safely enjoy my company. Still I sure am glad to get to my work whenever I’m invited!
I am looking forward to meeting you out in public sometime or being with you in a counseling session, I really love both my jobs.