Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Pre-Education of a Therapy Dog

Several experienced people have suggested that in order to raise the odds of getting a dog who will qualify for therapy work, I’d do best to get a dog….that is…not get a puppy.
With a dog, the temperament is more evident, and there are fewer surprises. Puppies grow and change; even the most outgoing youngster can develop quirks that you may or may not be able to work with. And if your heart, like mine, is set on doing this work, why NOT increase your odds?

Maudie is 2. I sometimes wish---with a powerful yen---that I had gotten her as a puppy. Watching a collie grow up is a wonder; they go through so many physical stages…weedy, fuzzy, and then they bloom into big gorgeous peonies. And of course, I would have loved to have known and grown WITH her. Dogs are with us for so short a time…it is a little pang that 2 years of her passed without me….

Nevertheless. I chose her---and she was chosen FOR me---because her solid confidence and gentle loving spirit are large, and had developed enough for us to able call those qualities dependable.

Her early life is somewhat of a mystery, but I know L & E did many things very right. Genetically, she is sound, and knock wood, healthy; the dogs behind her have good temperaments. She was exposed to enough stimulation and variety so that I have encountered very little that daunts her…she glides over metal grates, doesn’t flinch when something in the kitchen crashes, is eager to meet people, allows herself to be touched all over, tolerates the most uncanine-like human hugs, and has a foundation of listening to human speech enough to make around-the-house communication easy. (Go in; Go out, Wait, etc.)

So what have I been doing these 6 months while we waited to have the interview that will hopefully begin the process with Dove Lewis? Well, I take her to as many different places as I can, work in obedience (which is really just learning to communicate back and forth at a deeper level), ask her to meet and greet as many people as are willing. When someone admires her on a walk, I ask them if they’d like to meet her and facilitate a little exchange. (Her stunning good looks and collie aura at such times make me feel like the manager of a movie star…hee hee…Lassie legacy.)

I discourage her from jumping and climbing on people, and try to help her become more aware of where her body is in space.

But mostly, all this adds up to a simple preparation: we are learning to be a team, partners who go out into the world together to work, who can count on each other to keep them safe, who can speak clearly to one another. We are learning how to read each other’s moods and limits, how to cheer each other up, or calm each other down. She is mine. I am hers. We walk out together.

1 comment:

  1. Whenever I hug my dogs I tell them I'm giving them Monkey Hugs. I love Patricia McConnell, Susan Clothier and Jean Donaldson. I have not watched Cesar, I don't have the channel he is on, but I've heard he will put an aggressive dog in his pack and let the dogs teach the aggressive dog how it is.. I don't really like that idea, though I've never seen it.