Taking the Therapy Dog Test

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I am one of the very fortunate people in the world who has been truly blessed not just by having a wonderfully sweet dog but also one that has such a great temperament and empathy for humans in need that she has been certified as a therapy dog.  My yellow Labrador Sugar, a TDI (Therapy Dogs International) certified dog, has been providing psychological and physiological therapy to residents in nursing homes, memory care centers, and the Wounded Warriors center.  Her stable temperament and easy going personality are gifts that I wanted to share with others.

Sugar is happy to do her job and has much love to give, but each interaction takes some energy from her, so at the end of the day, she will sleep like a rock.  I have to make sure I do not burn her out but the need is so great that I decided to take one of my other little furry blessings, my little Rosebud, aka Rosie,  to take the test and see if she could be certified as well.

When my daughter was home from school, she took Rosie on some of these visits as an unofficial therapy dog in training so I felt she was ready to take the test.  The week before the test, I took her to pet stores and the tack and feed store to “practice.”  She got shy at strangers approaching her to pet her.  I didn’t take into account that each time she had gone with my daughter to a nursing home, I was there with Sugar.  She lives with three other dogs so she always has a pack mate around.  Being with her big sister gave her confidence.  When she found herself amongst strangers without Sugar, she understandably became shy.

The big day for the test came.  The test facility was over an hour drive.   I had plenty of time in the car to have heart to heart discussions with Rosie.  I used some of the tips I learned from Amelia Kinkade’s seminar and sent Rosie a “beam of love” from my heart to hers and told her how special it would be if she performed well at the test and passed it.  She could be as “cool” as her big sister Sugar, with an I.D. badge and a special TDI bandana. She would be able to give Sugar a break from her demanding job because Sugar and Rosie would be able to take turns doing the visits.

There were already a few other dogs at the test facility when we arrived.  Rosie was very interested in the new smells and curious about the other dogs, but she remained very cool, calm, and collected.  We got checked in which was one of the items of the test to simulate checking into a facility.  We did some of the test items as a group, mainly basic obedience skills.   The second part of the test was done individually.   Dogs and handlers were asked to walk through a noisy crowd of people with many distractions like balls bouncing, bubbles blowing, children jumping, and people running and talking loudly.  The dogs also had to test for how well they accepted separation.  At that time the evaluator took the dogs out of sight of the handler and were also able to check paws and ears to see how well the dog tolerated being touched by strangers and also check for good grooming.

Next we had to be tested on how well the dog waited at the doorway before being allowed in, how well the dog left the food laying around and also how well it listened to the “leave it” command when a stranger offered a cookie.  There were metal pans being dropped, wheelchairs rolling, walkers clanking, and a person on a bed with a plate full of goodies next to her to test the dog’s reactions to all these things that would be encountered at a hospital facility.

Certain items on the test were immediate fails if the dog didn’t perform as expected.  Since I drove so far away I asked the evaluators that in the event we failed one to let us go through the rest of the test and use that as practice.  They were nice and said that we could do the whole test.  I was prepared to come back if we needed to retake the test, but I guess the “beam of love” I kept on Rosie asking her to do her best really worked.  She performed each test item perfectly and made her momma proud!  She paid attention to what the dogs before her were doing.  Being the sixth dog to go in, she was prepared for the sounds and wasn’t startled by them.  Rosie is so good with the “leave it” command that she didn’t even look at the treat being offered by the stranger.  And when she got to the patient’s bed, she didn’t even bother with the plate of food.  She let the lady pet her all over.  I really think Rosie understood what was going on! We passed the test!!

I now have two certified therapy dogs to share with the world.  My next goal will be to take the FEMA Disaster Stress Relief Dog test and be able to help out even more. Visiting the seniors at the nursing homes or our wounded warriors at Camp Pendleton takes up time but when I see the smiles, when I see a non responsive patient make a sound or move her fingers to touch the dog, or hear a marine arriving at the parking lot as I am about to leave say “Oh wait, is that the therapy dog?  May I pet her?”  It just fills my heart with joy.  I am grateful to have the time and the sweet dogs to do this.  Visiting with my dogs is one of the most rewarding activities.  If you have a sweet tempered dog, I hope you will consider sharing the love with others as well.  Be a blessing to others. You can check out the TDI test requirements here.

Elena Flyer is a Californian owner and lover of animals: horses, dogs, birds – you name it! She is actively involved in the community whether through therapeutic dog visits to healthcare facilities, or volunteering at Labrador Rescuers.

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