Saturday, January 10, 2015

Therapy Dogs Testing

For a while now it's been on my to do list to get Vegas certified as a therapy dog. She loves people. She has always loved people. It's been my ongoing half-joke that I was never sure which part of our agility days Vegas liked best - the agility or the people. With all of our ups and downs lately, I knew we needed to move sooner rather than later if I was going to give her a chance to have a "job" again. On Wednesday I learned there was going to be a Therapy Dogs International (TDI) test at the upcoming Rose City Classic cluster of dog shows. Immediately I inquired and downloaded the test registration form.

Requirements for the test can be found by clicking on the link. The only area of the test I am concerned about is the one in regard to someone else holding Vegas' leash and my being out of site. It's not that she'll do anything bad. It's that she has separation anxiety from me. It's really a silly part of the test, in my opinion, because the chances of a handler ever having to be separated from their dog are slim to none. But it's a part of the test and we must be prepared.

So how to deal with this little facet? We have a local Facebook page I posted to. My ad:

ISO: This is sort of a strange request. I would like to get my Great Dane therapy tested next Friday. The purpose of the therapy test is to allow her to become a therapy dog so that she can go to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, the library and things like that. It's a job basically. For her.
The feature of the test that she will struggle with the most is the one that requires me to hand her leash to someone else and be out of sight for a moment. In the upcoming days and over the weekend is there anybody that would be willing to meet me somewhere here in Forest Grove and just simply allow me to hand her leash off and walk away for a minute or two? She's not aggressive and she won't drag anybody all over the place. She mostly will whine and pace in circles around you and I just would like to try and desensitize her as much as possible in hopes of being able to pass the test. Any takers?

I actually got a lot of responses! I was pleasantly surprised. Yesterday we started our little adventure. The first lady we met at her house. She was about 7.5 months pregnant (!) and still willing to help out. I chatted with her a few and then left Vegas with her and walked around the corner behind some shrubbery and a tree that Vegas couldn't see me through. She whined but did not pull, tug, or try to leave. Hooray!
After a visit to the college campus for Vegas to stretch her legs a little, we met up with another lady. She works at a new storage facility being built and so largely the place was empty, echoing, and filled with places for me to disappear to. I left her with Vegas twice, the first time for one minute and the second time for two. Again, Vegas was whiny but listened when asked to sit, wandered around on lead with the lady briefly, and cooperative.

Today (Saturday), we met up with another two lovely women. The first was at a local park. She is a college student who absolutely loves dogs. We walked and talked for a few minutes then took advantage of a sheltered cover and a nearby restroom building. I left Vegas with her under the shelter and walked past the bathroom and stood behind it. The first time she was quite whiny but stood still watching the direction I left. The second time she was nervous and shaking but quiet off and on. I think she was distracted by the young mother and small boy who came up the sidewalk nearby.

After we left the park we headed to the Plaid Pantry near the high school. The lady we met up with there has a couple of dogs of her own and has fostered many dogs. When I first tried to hand the leash off Vegas tried to pull away and come toward me. We moved to another location in the parking lot and tried again. I believe the first time the lady tried to walk with her and that is kind of a no-no as Vegas mistook that for meaning they were coming to find me. I left Vegas with her again and went inside the Plaid Pantry where I had the vantage point of being able to see her. She whined rather pathetically never taking her eyes from the front of the store. But she did not fight, pull, or try to escape.

So far we've tried four times. All four times she was cooperative but whiny. The test requirements are worded as follows:

Check-in and out of sight (between 2-3 minutes)

Test #2: The handler is asked to complete the paperwork and check in. At that time a helper will ask the handler if he/she can help by holding the dog. If the handler prefers he/she can go with the helper and places the dog with a stay command. The dog will be out of sight of the handler.  Another helper will take charge of the dog. The helper can talk to and pet the dog. The dog can sit, lie down, stand or walk around within the confine of the leash.

Whining, barking, pulling away from the helper is an automatic failure.

Given that information, I'm uncertain now if we will go ahead with the test. I'm discouraged because I don't think I can break the whining. I am going to chat with a lady who I believe used to administer the tests and see if she knows how lenient they may be on that topic. It's sad because she is completely okay with all the other requirements and she wouldn't harm anyone. She just doesn't like being away from her mom and is vocal about it. Guess we'll see but I do have more people to go see and keep trying.

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