I was recently reading an article about therapy dogs and how much joy they bring to those in need, like folks in a nursing home, abused children, people with disabilities, etc. I was entranced and immediately went online to see if there was a program like this near me. When I discovered that South Eastern Virginia (SEVA) Therapy Dogs was not far, I set out to join.
First things first, which child would I choose for this most honorable of jobs? It only took me a split second to eliminate Bella, who is nervous of strangers and as stubborn as an ox (sorry, Girl). By the process of elimination, that left my sweet Bentley. He would be perfect, right? He’s sweet, loves attention, and is not too hyper in his older years. He looked less than thrilled when I told him it was high time he had a job.
Okay, phase 1 tests:
1- Simulates hospital check in. The dog must permit the evaluator to check the collar, all 4 paws, ears, and tail. The dog must be friendly and outgoing upon meeting the evaluator, willing to visit without being invasive and show impeccable manners.
2- Out of sight. The handler (that’s me) tells the dog to stay and goes out of sight. The dog should remain calm and wait for the handler to return.
3- Getting around people. The dog/handler team must demonstrate that the dog can withstand the approach of several people at the same time and is willing to visit and walk through a group of people.
4- Group Sit/Stay. Dog will line up with other dogs and be told to sit and stay. Handler is asked to walk 6 feet away from the dog and the dog must remain in the sit/stay position.
5- Group Down/Stay. Same as #4 but the dog is in a down position.
6- Recall on a 20ft. leash. Dog is placed on a 20ft lead and told to down/stay. Handler walks 20ft away, turns and calls the dog to them. The dog MUST come immediately when called.
7- Visiting a patient. The dog must show ability to be placed on a person’s lap (for small dogs) or able to sit on a chair to be easily reached by patients.
Side note: Bentley is sleeping as I read these to him.
1- Reactions to unusual situations. The dog/handler must remain calm in the following situations:
a. Passing a person on crutches/wheelchair/walker
b. Having someone yelling “excuse me” and running by
c. A loud object being dropped making a startling noise
2- Leave it I. The dog should be offered a treat from another person and must obey the handler’s command to leave it.
3- Leave it II. There will be a piece of food placed on the floor and the dog must walk by and obey the handler’s command to leave it.
4- Meeting another dog. A helper with another dog will approach the dog/handler team and have a conversation. The dog must greet the other dog calmly and remain at the handler’s side.
5- Entering the facility. The dog should be placed in a stay position near the entrance of the building and allow others to walk in the door before the dog/handler team.
And if you make it through all of those, you have yourself a certified therapy dog! As wonderful as Bentley is, some of these tests will surely prove to be a struggle. Leaving a morsel of food on the ground, are you for real?! Note to self: make sure Bentley is not the least bit hungry on testing day. The next therapy dog testing session in Virginia Beach is on December 15. I may be setting the bar too high for my lazy love hound, but we’re going to give it our best. I’ll keep y’all posted. Wish us luck!