Sharing Hope: The Road to Becoming a Therapy Dog

DebbieHopeVisit

I thought it might be fun to chronicle the journey Hope and I are on.

Hope is my 18-month-old golden retriever puppy. She’s brought so much joy, and yes HOPE, into my life over the past year and a half. She truly lives up to her name. She’s such a happy little social dog, it was no surprise when her trainer suggested we consider therapy work. Since she’s brought me so much happiness, I figured why not share it?

We began our journey last Fall.

At the time Hope had successfully completed two puppy obedience classes. An adult dog training class and becoming AKC certified as a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) would also be required. And, she would need to pass a Control Evaluation test for the therapy dog organization we would be working with.

After taking a few months off to give Hope a chance to mature (read “settle down her puppy energy!”), Hope completed two more six-week training courses. And, earlier this month she passed her CGC and Control Evaluation tests. I couldn’t have been more proud of her. It was almost as if she knew it was time to perform. She got down to business and completed all her tasks like a pro.

We also spent a lot of time in The Home Depot and Lowes.

These stores proved to be great places to get her used to different environments and new people. They also helped us work on her sound sensitivity issues. She’s a highly sensitive dog and certain sounds cause her to cower, something we needed to work on overcoming. People probably thought I was crazy banging the carts and big metal rolling flats as we walked past them in the aisle! Thankfully, The Home Depot and Lowes are dog friendly and we received plenty of encouragement from staff and customers when we explained Hope was in training to be a therapy dog.

Our first therapy visit.

Now that we had a year of training, obedience classes, and two tests successfully under our belts, Hope and I were ready to begin supervised visits with the local chapter of Love on a Leash. While Hope is well trained, she’s still a puppy with plenty of puppy energy. She’s also a highly social dog and sometimes that quality gets the best of her around new people. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about how things would go.

We chose a quiet visit to a senior center, with just two other therapy dogs. The Love on a Leash chapter leader said it would be a great place for Hope’s first visit. I did my best to remain calm and accept whatever happened, trying to stay true to my motto of Let Go & Trust. If Hope is meant to be a therapy dog, she’ll do just fine. And if not, well, I’d remain open to whatever else the future might hold for her. As I’ve always said, the worse that could happen is I end up with a well-trained dog. Not such a bad thing!

All went well, considering.

I’m happy to report Hope did just fine for her first visit. She was a little anxious, but I was told that’s quite natural for a first visit and for a such a young dog. It was a brand new place and lot’s of new people and things going on. A totally new experience for her. Despite a little bit of over-exuberance (hey, I can’t change WHO she is and honestly I wouldn’t want to) Hope was a champ throughout her first, hour-long visit. She sat patiently and let the seniors take turns petting her. She wanted to say “hi” to everyone. We shared that she was in training and it was her very first visit, and the response from everyone we met was overwhelmingly positive.

They all loved Hope.

And, I got to see the joy she brought to them. The smiles on their faces as they pet her and we chatted about their pets and whatever they wanted to talk about. It genuinely warmed my heart. THIS is the Hope I have been wanting to share with others.

Turns out I’m in training, too!

I also learned Hope and I are a team. In fact, they call us a Team in Training. There’s a lot I have to learn, too, about how to act and what to do on visits in order to make it a positive experience for everyone involved. As the Love on a Leash chapter leader put it, even though Hope is the therapy dog, it’s really 50% her and 50% me. I need to be friendly and engage in conversation with everyone Hope visits. It’s up to me to gauge people to assess whether they appear open to receiving Hope’s attention, and always ask before letting Hope say hello.

I have to be mindful of Hope, and her needs, too.

If she’s getting too stressed or overwhelmed it’s up to me to recognize that and take her outside for a break. Plus, there’s all the rules of what to do, and what not to do, when visiting patients in a hospital. It’s a lot to take in.

Yes, a lot for both of us to learn.

We have 10 supervised visits to get our bearings and make sure this is work both of us are cut out for, and before Hope can become a certified therapy dog. Or should I say, before we can become certified as a therapy team!

Our next visit will be at the VA Hospital, and will be a totally different environment and experience from the senior center. Faster paced for one, which I’m told  should suit Hope and her puppy energy quite well. Hope will also get her very own Love on a Leash training bandanna to wear around her neck. This lets people know she’s a working dog and it also helps the dogs know they’re working. I’m hoping it’s like test day and Hope realizes it’s time to go to work and be on her best behavior.

All in all, I’d say today was a success.

I enjoyed it. Hope seemed to enjoy it. And I’m breathing a little bit easier this afternoon. Relaxing in the knowledge that our first visit is in the books. It’s no longer a total unknown. I’m looking forward to our next visit and seeing Hope settle in a little bit more. As for me, I’m excited about beginning this new chapter. It’s a wonderful distraction from business and a great step forward in my own happiness.

 

About Debbie

Debbie is an author, blogger, online teacher, business owner, and mid-lifer. She's writes on a wide range of topics, from marketing, money and success, to finding meaning at midlife. If it's on her mind, you'll find her writing about it!

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