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SUCCESSFUL TAILSTHE WONDERS OF THERAPY DOGS
By PATRICIA H. WHEELER
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Patricia H. Wheeler, PhD
All right reserved.
Therapy dogs are one of many types of working dogs. They are selected and trained, with their handler, to serve people of all ages and conditions, and, sometimes, to work with professional staff to help people achieve physical, emotional, social, and cognitive goals and objectives.
Therapy dogs are recognized as working dogs. The United States Postal Service (USPS) issued a series of stamps in 2012 honoring four types of "Dogs at Work"—guide dog, tracking dog, rescue dog, and therapy dog. The American Kennel Club (AKC) Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence recognizes five categories of working dogs—law enforcement, search and rescue, therapy, service, and exemplary companion dogs. The military is providing therapy dogs for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to help them cope with the on-going stressful conditions. Therapy Dogs International (TDI) has provided therapy dogs for several disastrous events. Called Disaster Stress Relief (DSR) teams, these therapy dog and handler teams were at the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9-11 World Trade Center attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters. For more information, see tdi-dog. org/OurPrograms.aspx?Page=DSR+%28Disaster+Stress+Relief%29.
Therapy dogs are often confused with service dogs and companion dogs. Service dogs are trained to work with one individual, usually one with a physical disability. Service dogs are permitted, under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (ada.gov/), to go wherever the persons they are working for can go. This includes restaurants, theaters, stores, buses, and airplanes. They are considered a type of durable medical equipment, just like a wheelchair. Service dogs go through months of extensive training by professional instructors and are certified by various agencies throughout the country such as Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) in Santa Rosa (cci. org/). Most service dogs are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds because of their size, strength, temperament, and ability to learn quickly. Smaller dogs and mixed breeds are used for some types of service dogs (e.g., medical response dogs) and as other types of assistance dogs (e.g., hearing assistance dogs).
At times, companion dogs are recommended by professional health staff for persons suffering from emotional disorders such as depression and social isolation. The dog is usually the pet for that individual. However, companion dogs do not have the freedom to go wherever that individual goes, and they may or may not receive special training and certification.
Therapy dogs are someone's pet, but they serve other people. Any breed and any size dog can be a therapy dog, though not all individual dogs are appropriate to become therapy dogs. The therapy dog bios in Appendix B describe the 51 dogs featured in this book. They range in size from less than ten pounds to over 130 pounds. They include male and female dogs, purebreds and mixed breeds, from age two to mid-teens.
The dogs must be evaluated prior to being certified by an agency as a therapy dog. To be a good candidate, the dog must have an appropriate temperament, have no underlying health issues that could interfere with its work, exhibit basic obedience, and possess other characteristics and skills appropriate for the sites and programs where the dog will work.
The therapy dog is only part of the team, though. Each therapy dog has a handler, who might or might not be the owner. The handler is the person certified by an agency to take the therapy dog to various sites, programs, and events. Unless the owner is certified, that person should not take his/her dog to work as a therapy dog. Handlers include a diverse group of people from all types of career backgrounds and with a multitude of interests (see Appendix C for information on the 46 handlers featured in this book).
The therapy dog team should be certified and registered by a reputable agency. This agency trains and evaluates the handler, the dog, and the two of them as a team. It provides insurance coverage when the team is working. (Many homeowner policies also provide coverage for the owner and the dog.) The agency ensures that the sites and programs where the team works and the events to which they go are safe for all involved—the dog, the handler, the people being served, and the staff and others on site.
The certifying agency monitors the performance of the handler and the dog to make certain there are no handler or dog issues. For the handler, these can include failure to follow the rules and policies of both the certifying agency and the places s/he volunteers with the dog, rudeness, antisocial behavior, and inability to control the dog adequately. For the dog, the agency should watch for signs of fear, stress, aggression, and unfriendly behavior as well as new health problems that might limit its work as a therapy dog. Sometimes additional training and monitoring, or an assignment to another site, will address the problems. In other cases, they should no longer work as a therapy dog team.
Getting a Handler/Dog Team Ready for Certification—
How much work needs to be done to prepare a handler and dog for becoming a therapy dog team varies considerably. If the dog's or handler's temperament is inappropriate, then they should consider other volunteer opportunities. For example, I dismissed a Yorkie who practically tore my arm off when I first approached him. And I dismissed a potential handler who was very impolite to patients and staff. But most dogs and people are much better candidates for becoming therapy dog teams.
I encourage the handler and dog to take puppy socialization and basic obedience classes together. It is important that they take these classes together because they will be working as a team at all times. I have also found it very helpful to take my dogs for walks in busy locations such as shopping centers or down the main street of town. This will get the dog used to a variety of people and numerous distractions, and help the handler learn how to control the dog better.
The dog should be exposed to the things they might encounter in their work assignments. These can include sudden loud noises, automatic opening doors, elevators, medical equipment, wheelchairs, walkers (watch the tennis balls on them!), scooters, canes, crutches, beds that move up and down, food and linen carts, narrow spaces to pass through, playground equipment, motorcycles, etc.
All potential therapy dogs must have a complete health examination by a veterinarian to ensure that there are no underlying medical conditions which would prohibit such work. But even with some conditions, dogs can do a great job. I have seen dogs that are blind or have only three legs be a great inspiration to people with physical challenges. Assignments can be made to address such issues as allergies and difficulty walking on smooth surfaces. Some dogs don't get along well with other dogs. However, often assignments can be made to address this issue, and, if another dog comes on site, the handler can take his/her dog out or go to another area of that site.
The dog should have a health exam at least annually and always be current on the shots and tests required by the certifying agency as well as the sites and programs where the dog works.
I encourage potential handlers to shadow an experienced therapy dog team at a site that interests them. Some people think they will be fine volunteering at a certain type of site, only to find out they are uncomfortable once there. They could consider different types of sites or other volunteer opportunities.
Going to Work as a Team—
Dogs should wear their vest or bandanna showing that they are a certified therapy dog. The dogs should wear a standard nylon or leather collar, or a headcollar (e.g., Gentle Leader) or harness. They should not have decorations attached to the collars because people can get cut on them. A working therapy dog should never use a choke collar or electronic training collar because people could be pinched or injured by a choke collar, and the training collar could interfere with electronic signals in use at the site or the dog could be out of sight of the handler.
The handler should use a four-to-six foot nylon or leather leash, without decorative attachments. A retractable collar is inappropriate to use with a working therapy dog. No matter what size dog, they must always be close to the handler. There are situations where the dog might be off leash in an enclosed area, such as in group counseling sessions or in some physical therapy activities. But the handler must be nearby and have control of the dog.
The dogs need to be clean before going to work. I suggest regular professional grooming and nail trimming. In addition, they need to be cleaned every time before going to work and afterwards. This can be done with hand sanitizer, baby wipes, and certain shampoos. Special attention should be paid to their paws, especially if working in a health facility. They should also have their teeth brushed regularly and cleaned, as needed, by a veterinarian. I always carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with me, along with paper towels and plastic bags. Then I am prepared in case someone sneezes or coughs on the dog, or the dog steps into something that it shouldn't. I am also prepared to pick up after my dog, which all handlers should do.
The handler must be dressed appropriately for the assignment. Handlers should wear comfortable, sturdy walking shoes. I suggest wearing clothes similar to what the staff at the site or program are wearing. Handlers should not wear perfume or after-shave lotion. They should not smoke, use a cell phone, or text while working with their dog.
Some sites and programs have their own application process for volunteers, which should be completed before starting to work at a site. These might include background checks, references, and handler health exams as well as veterinary exams for the dog.
The handler should be adequately familiar with the site or program. This can include appropriate hours to come and which days of the week, where to park, where the dog can relieve itself, how to sign in and out, where the handler can safely leave their personal belongings (e.g., purse, backpack, coat), what areas of the facility are available for the team to go see people, where the handler and dog can get water and take a rest break, where the emergency exits are, which restrooms they can use, who the key staff members are and how to locate them when a problem arises, and the phone number to call when there is a problem. It is inappropriate to sit on a person's bed or wheelchair, so know where the chairs or benches are that are available to everyone.
People always enjoy seeing a dog do tricks. Each therapy dog must know basic obedience commands including sit, stay, heel, halt/stop, leave it, back, off, and down. Additional tricks are always welcomed, though jumping and barking are not appropriate. Twirl, dance, and tunnel are three popular ones that my dogs do. Sometime a toy can add to the fun that people are having.
It is reasonable to take breaks. Lawrence and I were at the VA for ten hours one day! He had no interest in leaving and wanted to see everyone. It was a very busy day there with a large public meeting going on about the future of the facility. He was certainly wound up that day, but I needed some breaks. I took them in areas where he could continue visiting the veterans while I relaxed (e.g., the lobby, the patio).
There are times that the dog needs a break. This can be a stressful job for them, especially when they have had to deal with a highly distraught person or a group of very active children. It is fine for the dog to "lie down on the job," as long as it is on a safe and clean surface.
The handler should keep the primary staff contact person(s) informed about their work at the site and report any unusual behaviors of clients, good and bad.
Sites, Programs, and Events—
Therapy dogs can work in many different types of settings. Often people think of them for hospitals and nursing homes. But there is a wide array of sites and programs featured in this book. They include the following:
Camp Arroyo—operated by The Taylor Family Foundation and the YMCA, offers facilities for various groups serving people with special needs. Two programs involve the therapy dogs:
Exceptional Needs Network's Camp Arroyo—a camp for developmentally delayed youth
Kara's Camp Erin—a camp for children and youth grieving the loss of a loved one
Community Assistance for Retarded and Handicapped—an agency that provides social and recreational programs and activities throughout the East Bay for special-needs clients, young children to seniors
Easy Living Care Home—a set of five residential care facilities for seniors, including non-ambulatory and hospice
The Friendship Center—now closed, was a daycare service program for seniors
Library Programs—covers the Paws to Read programs at six libraries in the East Bay at which children and youngsters read to therapy dogs
Livermore Manor—now closed, was an assisted living care facility for people with Alzheimer's and dementia
Merrill Gardens—an assisted living and retirement community
Military and Veteran Events—includes Welcome Home Celebrations for our troops, memorial services, Veterans Day parades and ceremonies, dedications, and other events honoring our military troops and veterans
The Parkview—an assisted living and memory care facility for seniors
School Programs—covers programs at four schools in three school districts which involve therapy dogs in reading programs, special education classrooms, tutoring programs, etc.
Shepherd's Gate—a shelter for battered and homeless women and children
VA Palo Alto Health Care System Livermore Division—a facility that has a community living center serving veterans who need long-term care plus short-term care and outpatient services in which the therapy dogs work
The chapter on other sites, programs, and events includes work at community events and in parades, with a police department, and at sites and with programs other than those listed above. Clearly, this listing shows that therapy dogs can work in many types of settings where they make a difference for the people they serve.
The Benefits of Therapy Dogs—
This book is full of testimonials and stories about the benefits of the therapy dogs. Each one tells of at least one benefit. The photos and poems express the benefits more. Even the short quotes often say a lot about what these dogs do for people and what they mean to them. The dogs help people in physical, emotional, social, and cognitive areas. They also help staff, family members, and others. Some of the benefits highlighted in this book are listed below. However, this is not a complete list of all the benefits of the 51 therapy dogs featured in this book and their work at the many sites, programs, and events covered.
Physical—lets the person touch and feel a responsive living being, encourages motion and stretching, motivates one to do physical therapy, provides warmth, lowers blood pressure, stops spasms, slows down rapid breathing, reduces pain because when touching a dog endorphins are released.
Emotional—generates unlimited amounts of unconditional love to everyone who wants it, helps people get over their fear of dogs, helps people control impulses, calms people, encourages people to be patient and obedient, brings back happy memories, elicits joy and laughter, helps people cope with anxiety and depression, encourages people to try to do things (e.g., walk farther, read hard words, do new crafts, play unfamiliar games), comforts and snuggles, brings humor and lightness to bleak situations, aids people who are dealing with traumatic experiences, gives people something to look forward to, lifts their morale, addresses feelings of loneliness and the need for friends, increases self-esteem, eases the transition for a person from life to death, helps people through times of grieving the loss of a loved one.
Social—focuses their attention on someone other than themselves (e.g., making eye contact, talking to a dog, being aware of something in their environment, smiling), brings a connection to the outside world, provides entertainment and does tricks which encourage people to group together to watch the dog, provides an opportunity to share stories about dogs with others, offers an opportunity to thank someone (namely the dog) through verbal praise or petting (or giving treats where permitted), serves as an ice-breaker in bringing people together, makes people more apt to open up and share their feelings and concerns with others, gives them an opportunity to interact with the dog and get it to do tricks at their command rather than the handler's, helps people practice social skills (e.g., making introductions, taking turns, thanking others, accepting responsibility), encourages people to appreciate our military troops and veterans for their service to our country, fosters a greater sense of national pride.
Cognitive—increases their desire to read and to participate in games and crafts, allows people to make decisions (e.g., to visit with the dog, to touch the dog, to talk to the dog, to ask the dog to do tricks), helps them focus on doing homework and preparing for tests, encourages them to ask questions, provides comfortable topics to share with others in oral and written format, exercises memory (e.g., recalling past experiences, remembering the dogs).
Staff reported that having therapy dogs present calms them down, which results in better service to clients. Some family members said they want to visit when the therapy dog is at the facility. The dogs encourage family members and friends to visit and make them aware that their loved one needs visitors.
Excerpted from SUCCESSFUL TAILS by PATRICIA H. WHEELER Copyright © 2012 by Patricia H. Wheeler, PhD. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 2~Camp Arroyo Programs....................11
Chapter 3~Community Assistance for Retarded and Handicapped....................22
Chapter 4~Easy Living Care Home....................27
Chapter 5~The friendship Center....................40
Chapter 6~Library Programs....................46
Chapter 7~Livermore Manor....................90
Chapter 8~Merrill Gardens....................99
Chapter 9~Military and Veteran Events....................105
Chapter 10~The Parkview....................128
Chapter 11~School Programs....................140
Chapter 12~Shepherd's Gate....................158
Chapter 13~Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System Livermore Division....................168
Chapter 14~Other Sites, Programs, and Events....................284
Appendix A~Valley Humane Society....................301
Appendix B~Dog Bios....................303
Appendix C~Handler Bios....................333
Appendix E~Suggested Readings....................357