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My 5 yo standard poodle just finished the evaluation process for Alliance of Therapy dogs. We began the process in December 2019 by completing a background check on me. The evaluation was to have taken place in April 2020. At the time I was visiting dog-friendly stores frequently in order to prepare for the evaluation.

Fast forward. A friend noticed an announcement on a local trainer's web site about hosting therapy dog evaluations last week, the day before they were to take place. I was able to take part in this along with 4 other dogs (2 golden retrievers, a German shepherd, and possibly a poodle mix). Our preparation consisted of a visit to Rural King for a half hour prior to the initial evaluation in order to desensitize to meeting strangers. The initial evaluation went fine, and our final community evaluation took place in a shopping mall on Sunday afternoon. There is still the application process to conclude, including health verification. Then we receive the ID card and collar tag and are insured by ATD while 'working.'

Other applicants already have a 'job' for their dogs: mental health counselor, special education teacher, whose husband has a second dog that assists in the county coroner's office. My friend who belongs to Pet Partners works with a local children's home.

My question is for those already engaged in therapy dog volunteering. Please share your experience with your therapy dog, where you volunteer and how often, and any plusses/minuses. There were a couple of small children who seemed to be intimidated by my dog's large size, though he was on best behavior. I'm excited to start volunteering but want to be realistic and to not put my dog in a difficult situation. (Photo is squirrel watching from the back porch; the squirrels aren't intimidated!)

Plant Dog Window Flowerpot Carnivore
 

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My 5 yo standard poodle just finished the evaluation process for Alliance of Therapy dogs. We began the process in December 2019 by completing a background check on me. The evaluation was to have taken place in April 2020. At the time I was visiting dog-friendly stores frequently in order to prepare for the evaluation.

Fast forward. A friend noticed an announcement on a local trainer's web site about hosting therapy dog evaluations last week, the day before they were to take place. I was able to take part in this along with 4 other dogs (2 golden retrievers, a German shepherd, and possibly a poodle mix). Our preparation consisted of a visit to Rural King for a half hour prior to the initial evaluation in order to desensitize to meeting strangers. The initial evaluation went fine, and our final community evaluation took place in a shopping mall on Sunday afternoon. There is still the application process to conclude, including health verification. Then we receive the ID card and collar tag and are insured by ATD while 'working.'

Other applicants already have a 'job' for their dogs: mental health counselor, special education teacher, whose husband has a second dog that assists in the county coroner's office. My friend who belongs to Pet Partners works with a local children's home.

My question is for those already engaged in therapy dog volunteering. Please share your experience with your therapy dog, where you volunteer and how often, and any plusses/minuses. There were a couple of small children who seemed to be intimidated by my dog's large size, though he was on best behavior. I'm excited to start volunteering but want to be realistic and to not put my dog in a difficult situation. (Photo is squirrel watching from the back porch; the squirrels aren't intimidated!)

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Congratulations! Love both your dog and your porch.
 

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What opportunities are close to you?

My friend works on an army base (JBLM in Washington) and said everyone on base LOVES "dog visit day".

I feel like anyplace would be happy to see your Spoo, and where you feel like your meant to make an impact.

To name a few ideas -
old folks homes
Children's hospitals
Cancer research centers
 

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You would probably want to wait until after the pandemic, but regular hospitals too. After my mom's stroke, she was in the hospital for weeks. She wasn't aware of anything, but the Great Danes therapy dogs that were there a couple of times a week helped me when I visited her.
 

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This was completely unofficial, but Snarky and Pogo were quite popular at the nursing home where my MIL lives. We started taking them over to visit her once or twice a week in the assisted living facility. Sometimes we took them directly to her room. Other times we would wait for her outside the dining room. The residents would stream past us after supper, and many would stop to pet the dogs. Often the residents would tell us stories of their own dogs and tell us how much they missed their pets. A few times, with permission from the facility, we took them to visit special friends who were recovering the medical ward after a fall.

We stopped the visits once MIL's condition deteriorated and she transferred to the memory unit. Unfortunately, some of the cognitively impaired residents had a tendency to rush over and strangle-hug the dogs. The boys were fine with pats, but having a stranger wrap arms around their necks while grabbing a fistful of top-knot and squealing in loud wordless delight was definitely a new experience for them. We felt it was safest for everyone to avoid putting the dogs in these situations.
 

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Congratulations. Good teamwork.

Babykins was certified by Therapy Dogs Inc, (TDI). Babykins and I had to pass the handling test with a group of other dogs, children, people etc. it was close to Halloween and they were pretending to be zombies which added some fun and challenge to the test. I had an exam to take plus paperwork etc. Insurance is through TDI. They have groups of people to help introduce you to different needs/locations. You can also add a new organization who isn’t allied by having them fill out paperwork to join which is what my library was going to do if I came to the library for the read to dogs program. We visited nursing homes for about a year until our dog sports started to take over.

In addition I wanted to train Babykins to be a mobility service dog. You can’t be a therapy dog and a service dog at the same time. Incompatibility issues with a friendly dog looking to be petted by patients and a service dog ignoring people. So we left therapy work.

I had considered working with hospice , not everyone can handle that but I thought my dog would work well there. I avoided schools because I was afraid the kids excitement would make my young dog too excited, after all she was still a puppy at a year. I had friends who go to a special school for autistic children who can make wild, outrageous and random loud sounds and strange jerky movements. That’s a particular school that only very sedate older dogs can handle. The nursing home was ideal for us. Patients love poodles, it’s fairly quiet even when you enter a room full of patients who are excited to see you the energy is calm. We met patients in a central room and also in their private rooms. So many had poodles as pets when they were young, or knew others who did. Seeing a poodle brought up lots of good memories for them.

Your dog is 5 so more settled at that age. Think about how your dog reacts in different situations to decide where a good fit is for your team. If a group of 7 years kids ran screaming and yelling in the playground with excitement towards your dog, would your dog be calm and receptive? Some school situations are like that. You maybe going to a classroom but pass kids out on recess. OTOH, meeting one child in the library to read to them would mean one child in a quiet place ….would your dog love to lay down and be petted for 15 minutes or would boredom set in?

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks for the useful experience/suggestions. My older dog 'unofficially' visited a friend who was in a rehab center many years ago. Agree on the possibility of erratic actions by some clients/patients; one of the evaluators simulated such behavior, and my dog didn't appreciate having air blown in his face -- he thinks that's initiating play. It might be safest for my dog to work with stable adults.
 

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Very big congratulations!! Some therapy dogs I know volunteer at the local VA hospital working with veterans with PTSD among other things. They love when the dog visits. Would also consider going to VFW's as another way to help those who have served.
 
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