Is Your Dog Ready for Therapy Work?

The simple connection of petting a dog reduces stress and promotes healing

The simple connection of petting a dog reduces stress and promotes healing

If your dog is a social butterfly and likes making new friends you may want to consider having him certified for therapy work. Therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and while not every dog is cut out for this type of work, most friendly dogs have a very good chance at being certified. What else is required? Good canine manners are required in order to pass the therapy test. given by the various organizations. The AKC Star Puppy program and later the Canine Good Citizen® or CGC are great places to start especially since the latter is a foundation for many of the evaluating tests of the different approved organizations. What makes therapy work testing different is the observation of both dog and handler, working as a team and interacting with others. When testing, evaluators look to see not only if the dog is sociable, but also to see if the owner handles their dog in a way that minimizes risk, if they are able to “control” the visit, and interact appropriately with those they visit.

When introducing dogs to the various pieces of medical equipment in a training setting, care should be taken to keep things positive. Trainers will often lure dogs to approach the strange item, whether it be a wheelchair, walker, four-footed cane, or crutches, then click and treat. The goal is to build confidence around these items so that the dog is relaxed and can do the job it was meant to do. Also a firm grasp of the “leave it” command can be a lifesaver since pills and other foreign objects may appear on a hospital or nursing home floor.

While it takes time to train and certify a dog for this work, it is well worth the effort to see the smiles on the faces of those you meet. There is nothing quite like it.

How sheepherding can help the urban dog…

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How sheepherding can help the urban dog...

Dorice Stancher (c)2014

They may seem cuddly and counting them may be great for sleeping, but make no mistake herding sheep is challenging and some of them are downright ornery!

I live in a condo without a fenced backyard so I look for out-of-the-box, left of center ways to train my dogs to be obedient good little canine citizens.  I recently took a lesson with Carolyn Wilki, owner of the Raspberry Ridge Sheep Farm in Bangor, PA, who has been herding since 1987 and studied at both Cornell and Bryn Mawr. If you are a fan of NY Times writer John Katz, you may recall that his highly successful “Dogs of Bedlam Farm” series mentions his experiences training with Carolyn and how he found not only a way to reach his dogs on another level but to also find a sense of inner peace http://www.bedlamfarm.com/?s=carolyn+wilki

And so here are a few of the things both my dogs and I learned.  It is not a crime to slow down and appreciate the world around you.  The bleating of the lambs is almost hypnotic. and for a North Jersey caffeinated girl this was a welcome respite after a tough week. As our emotions influence our dogs, it was better for them too.  “Control is an illusion,” remarked Carolyn as I attempted to call my alpha female Wheaten Terrier off of the three prancing sheep she was chasing.  Obviously I was not as fun as they were.  It was suggested I move my feet and catch her as she turned and remarkably when I asked her to “Lay Down” she hit the dirt, and then when I called her she came trotting back to me.  As a professional dog trainer I always advise my students when training in public to make themselves more interesting than the object of attraction.  While teaching a “Leave It” command is a nice idea, when something so fantastically tempting catches a dog’s eye, a backup plan and execution is even better.

There were so many temptations in the pen: sheep poop, sheep hair, sheep, smells of other animals in the distance like ducks and goats.  And little by little they were of secondary importance as Krista and I learned the dance of two, and becoming united in our purpose to drive those three ornery sheep in our chosen direction following Carolyn’s instructions. She is one of only two sheepherding instructors in the entire country that uses positive reinforcement I learned, and in attendance in my little class were people from California, Brooklyn and Long Island.

I don’t think our condo association allows sheep although my dogs do have a resemblance so I think our next attempt at herding will be with the Canadian Geese that frequent our local park, remembering the goal is to night frighten them into flight, but to keep them together, to have them march toward a pre-determined direction, respecting their personal space.  In my head is the perfect vision of our teacher and her Border Collie  driving the sheep effortlessly and zen-like across the field and into their pens with a “That’l Do” as the final note-a peaceful ending to a great day.