Evolution of a therapy dog – Part II

So when we left Part I, Rory was going through her ‘rebellious’ phase and I was wondering if she had what it takes to be a therapy dog (and if we’d ever be able to leave the house safely again).

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Destructo puppy!

At about this time I came across Lead The Way Psychology and Animal-Assisted Therapy (ltw.com.au), it was exactly what we’d been looking for! They specialise in training animal-handler teams for animal-assisted intervention work (including AAT). Psychologists, social workers, teachers, volunteers, anyone who is interested in working (or volunteering) with their dog in a therapeutic capacity, can apply for their 6-day intensive, introductory program.

The program covers; basic obedience and behaviour shaping as well as current research and theory into the benefits and techniques of AAI and AAT. And when they say intensive, they mean intensive!

Rory and I worked hard that week! But on the first day she went from a dog who would sit on command if she felt like it and hold it for as long as she deemed necessary (like most pets!) to a dog that would reliably sit on first command and stay there until released. It was astounding!

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Rory and her friends holding a sit-step away.

They showed us video at the beginning of the week of a group of dogs all holding a drop pose in a large group under insane levels of distraction (ride on mowers driving past, squeaky toys being held in front of them, food being thrown on the ground around them) and told us that our dogs would be able to do that by the end of the week. We all laughed and looked at them like they were crazy, but by the third day, our dogs were holding drop for an hour at a time while we had a leisurely lunch right in front of them!

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Holding a drop step-away over lunch.

And by the end of the week, sure enough, we knew how to hold their attention under all kinds of distraction!

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Holding drop step-aways while Head Trainer Greg drives a tractor around them!

The initial training really strengthened the bond and the trust between Rory and I and she responded incredibly well to the Alpha training methods (alphacanineprofessional.com.au). The most important parts of the training, for me, were to see how Rory would react under stress and to help her develop the ability to work well and calmly under distraction. It’s so important to have confidence that at times when she does become overtired or overwhelmed that she will look to me for direction rather than try and figure her way out of it alone. That is often where problems can occur – a dog that doesn’t have that leadership from their owner/handler is much more likely to snap when an overenthusiastic child gets in their face, steps on their tail or hugs them tightly around the head (all of which has happened to Rory in sessions).

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My new graduate!

Finally, it was time for our first day on the job – and while I’ve included a sneak peek picture of that below, we might have to leave the details for another time! Please tune in next month for the third and final instalment in The Evolution of a Therapy Dog!

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First day on the job!

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