Written by Marilyn Miller
Therapy Dogs were first used in mental health facilities in the 1700's. The American Red Cross used them in convalescent care after World War Two. The idea really took off in the 1900's.
My Lhasas and I have been doing Therapy Dog (TD) work for thirty years. I first read about this in either "Dog World" or the AKC "Gazette" magazine. My first thought was that Ming CDX would make a great Therapy Dog. Ming and Pong began visiting the Bay View Nursing Home (in the late 1980's) in Winthrop, Mass. where we lived. Both dogs had basic obedience training and Ming had his CD at the time. We visited Bay View once a week. Once inside I let the dogs off leash and they ran right to Pauline's room, their favorite patient. Pauline always had treats for "her babies". She depended on our visits so much that Glenn and I felt guilty when we went on vacation and missed a visit. Her world revolved around seeing the "boys".
Ming put on shows at my Mother's retirement center in Connecticut where he performed his CDX exercises. Ming's performance was billed "Watch Ming do his Thing"!
The Canine Good Citizen title is a good stepping stone to becoming a Therapy Dog. There are also courses to take to become a Therapy Dog, but they are difficult to find. However, the CGC courses are given regularly. Dillon, RE and I took the 6 - week CGC course in Kittery, Maine and passed the test and earned the title at "It's a Dog's World" in York, Maine. The steps a dog must pass to earn the CGC title are:
Sitting politely for petting
Good Appearance and Grooming
Walking nicely on a loose leash
Walking through a crowd
Sit and Down on command and Staying in place.
Coming when called
Reaction to another dog
Reaction to a distraction (such as a loud noise)
Supervised Separation away from the owner.
The two organizations I have had my Lhasas registered with were: Therapy Dogs Int'l in Mass. and Therapy Dogs Inc. in N.H. This test must be conducted by a certified evaluator. Jet, CD, RE and Lilly, UD passed the test under AKC Utility judge Sally Alexander in Mass. Jet was the best TD I have had. He lived for his visits to see his "friends". He shook with happy anticipation of his visits. Jet and I visited the Don Orient Home in East Boston and the Haven Health Care Center in Hampton, NH. Different institutions have different requirements for allowing dogs to visit. Some facilities are quite lax in their requirements and others make you jump through hoops to be accepted: Such as what training classes you have attended, what titles you have earned, references from different trainers and class mates, etc. Also proof of the Rabies vaccine and yearly physical. There is no Tester/Evaluator near us in NH, so all the paperwork had to be filled out for Jet and Luckee Fella, CD, RAE. I also had a booklet to read on TDI and a take home test to fill out on that material. All of this information had to be typed and a check for $20.00 included. Additional dogs are $10.00 more per dog. A certain number of visits per year are required to keep the certification current. Luckee Fella and I visited for several years. The residents loved to see our obedience exercises.
Today Therapy Dogs include Hearing Dogs, Guide Dogs, Mobility Dogs, Psychiatric Service Dogs, Alert/Response Dogs, and Autism Dogs. "Soldiers Best Friend" provides US military veterans suffering from combat - related PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury with a Service or Therapeutic Companion Dog. Most of these dogs are rescues from local shelters. The Veteran and dog train as a team to develop a trusting bond.
The little Tibetan Spaniel, " Bailey," started our friends Gene and Georgette on their " Therapy" career. Bailey had no titles or AKC ribbons but the joy he brought to his friends was unmeasurable. When Bailey passed away last May he received his "Wall of Fame" plaque from an elementary school where he helped first graders in reading programs for seven years. Bailey was the first dog to receive this honor. There was also a grand tribute for Bailey led by the principal of the large school.
The Therapy Dogs and their handlers are much appreciated and it is a rewarding experience for the team. If you have not yet tried Therpay Dog work, maybe now is the time.
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