Please consider volunteering even a little bit of time with your wonderful pet as a pet therapy team.
Therapy dog work is so rewarding and anyone with a social and well-behaved pet can become involved. There are a large variety of establishments that are in need of pet therapy to help calm nerves, help with a mental or physical disability, or to brighten up someone’s day. Many times, when Clancy and I do a therapy dog visit, we are not just brightening up someone’s day; we have been the one happy moment of that troubled person’s week, month, or sadly, the remainder of their life. It means so much to people to have their minds taken off of their troubles as your pet greets them, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
As much as people appreciate our visits, it’s just as rewarding to us. Watching people take joy in petting Clancy, the laughter his doggie kisses brings, and the applause he gets from delighting everyone with his trick performances, makes me and everyone who witnesses it feel good. Even those that don’t care for dogs, have to smile when Clancy waves at them or does another cute dog trick, like playing the “piano”. If you have a Keeshond, then you know that even just the mere sight of your fluff ball triggers smiles and gasps of awe.
Clancy and I volunteer with a local pet therapy program and have visited nursing homes, dementia care facilities, Hospices, elementary schools, colleges, hospitals, public libraries and more. Lonely elders are reminded of good times with their own pets which triggers them to have conversations with others long after you leave.
It’s especially special to get a reaction from someone that has been trapped in their own mental state, not acknowledging the outside world. Clancy did just that with an elderly lady at a special adult care live-in facility. As Clancy performed his tricks for her, she pointed at him and started muttering with a smile on her face. A nearby caretaker exclaimed that she had not heard this lady make a sound in the weeks that she had been there. We were all thrilled when she began clapping as Clancy showed off more of his tricks.
Here is a video of one of the favorite tricks that Clancy does at the medical facilities we visit: Clancy’s “Achoo” Trick …
However, your pet doesn’t have to know tricks to help those in need. Any well-behaved, trustworthy, social, sweet, and well-groomed pet that has been conditioned to a variety of distractions will make a good therapy animal. If your dog is able to pass the (AKC) Canine Good Citizen test, your dog would likely be able to pass the temperament screening test that most therapy dog organizations require.
Keeshonden are especially well-suited for therapy work, for they have naturally sweet temperaments and are great family dogs. They have a natural affinity for people and especially children. They are such a happy and social breed that has more tolerance than most for children’s antics and do not seem to mind hugs. Good thing, too, for of course the Keeshond has a huggable factor off the charts… people just can’t resist wrapping their arms around them and burying their head in all that fluff. Kees are also very trainable, making it easy to teach them manners, obedience and tricks. It does take some time from the owner to do the training, but it’s worth it.
From when he was a young puppy and continuing through the present, I brought Clancy everywhere to socialize him with all types of people and to get used to all kinds of environments. We took classes, then enforced manners and practiced obedience in a variety of places such as pet-friendly stores, on sidewalks of store fronts, near playgrounds of screaming children, dog parks (which was the most challenging for us) and unfamiliar places. With some training and patience, you can also train older dogs to be good therapy dogs. Even a couple of keeshonden rescued from puppy mills, who had a very different start to life than Clancy, were socialized and trained and have recently passed their therapy dog screenings (one of them being Reggie, who was one of the lucky ones that was rescued from Marjorie’s Kennel and went on to become a Trick Dog Champion just like Clancy).
I didn’t know at the time I got a puppy that I would one day be involved in therapy dog work. Clancy brought me so much joy every day and any time we were out in public, he was a natural with the attention he drew. I couldn’t keep Clancy just to myself when we could use the power of his cuteness, personality and intelligence to make a difference in people’s lives. Clancy took the therapy dog temperament test when he was a little over 2 years old and had completed over 50 different therapy visits to earn his AKC Therapy Dog title shortly before his 4th birthday.
Clancy and I have so many heart-warming memories of visits that I know made a real difference in that person’s life, already too many to share on a blog post. Many of those visits occurred in Hospice and in the ICU at the hospital. To make someone in those situations smile, to entertain them with something that likely they never have seen before (such as a dog playing the bongos, basketball, or getting a drink out of a cooler), are priceless moments. I even had someone in Hospice profusely thank me because they felt they have now seen everything after seeing Clancy’s performance.
Dog tricks do add to the special memory of having been visited by a therapy dog. A few useful ones for any type of therapy visit is to train your dog “Paws up”, so they may get closer to those that are bed-ridden, “kisses” to get a giggle out of the real animal lovers, “head down” to have your dog lay their head down on people’s laps, and “wave” for those that want to only admire your dog from a distance. If your dog is up for a full out private performance, everyone gets a kick out of uncommon or more complicated tricks. In an upcoming blog post, I will cover dog tricks more in depth. Just be mindful of wearing out your dog and keeping them a safe distance from the spectators when the dog is in motion so to not even risk a scratch. I have Clancy put his paws up on my arm rather than on the patient or on their bed when we’re trying to get him closer to those that have limited mobility. Though you should be covered by the therapy dog organization’s insurance, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Also, know your dog and if you sense that he/she needs a break or indicating any change in behavior, politely end the visit.
Therapy pets are high in demand and more volunteers are needed to step up with their capable pets, even if it’s just an hour a month. Pet therapy benefits those in hospitals, therapy, nursing homes, educational programs in schools, children’s reading programs, colleges during stressful exam time, even courtrooms. There are many local pet therapy organizations out there to get you and your pet started in therapy work. Each has their own set of requirements, so check out and compare a few to see what you think will work out best for your situation. To find one, just do a web search for pet therapy organizations in your state. Want to learn more about what therapy dog work is, how it benefits others, and typical requirements or other things to expect? This website has a lot of useful information, www.TherapyDogInfo.net , but always be sure to check with your local therapy dog organizations for specifics.
Share your best friend with others that might need him/her. It will make everyone’s day better, especially if you could find the time during the holiday season when it’s even lonelier for the lonely. Thank you to all those that already volunteer. ❤