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I have read on this forum threads about poodles making good therapy dogs - in my case such a temperament is a requirement. My youngest brother is autistic (he's 21 now) and obviously when I get a poodle in the future it will be around my brother and many of his friends - my family is very active in Special Olympics. If my brother eventually ends up in a group home situation I would love to bring my dog along for a visit. I have never had a problem with any of our dogs before - my mom (and I) require our dogs to be socialized, have manners, and obedience training. I was wondering if any members have had any specific experience using poodles in therapy situations or any advice on poodle specific considerations when dealing with more fragile populations.
 

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Hi!!
I have two poodles that are certified as therapy dogs. We go and visit the elderly in a nearby nursing home on a weekly basis, and we've been involved in hospital visits and a 'bite free' program for young children.
It sounds as though you have experience with other dogs, so you know that temperament is paramount in a therapy dog. A good, middle of the road temperament makes an ideal therapy dog...a happy confident dog, but not a dominant one. If you're planning on getting a puppy it would be worth your while to have prospective litters temperament tested by someone who is familiar with the Volhard or similar temperament tests. I have tested many litters of poodle puppies, and it's amazing how different entire litters can be, let alone the individual puppies within the litters.
Hope this helps!
Vivienne
 

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Hi! I've been doing animal assisted therapy for 7 yrs, starting with my bichon Cosita, and now with Liberty. I also teach, evaluate, and mentor new teams. We've visited at care centers, rehab clinics, a lockdown facility for teens, hospice, and now a children's hospital. I totally agree with Vibrant. The temperament of the dog is soooo important. That's the part they're really born with, that can't really be trained. Do they like people? Are they comfortable around people with disabilities? You can train and desensitize, and expose them to all sorts of people and situations so that they're confident and social, but really when it comes down to it, some dogs are just born for this work.

Just as important, the handler really needs to support them. It's really the difference between "using" the dog and helping the dog do what he loves. It involves getting down on the animal's level, being right there with him, watching for stress signals, then figuring out what's causing the stress and changing the situation. You are your animal's advocate, and if he's uncomfortable in a situation, such as a client getting right in his face and talking loudly, then you need to be able to change the situation, for example, saying, "He really likes to be scratched right here (pointing to the lower back)," and changing the position of the animal so he can see you, and the client can't get into his face. Then you'll see the dog relax, and the client most likely will relax too. Often it's helpful to have another person there to help the client interact safely if they're having a hard time with that. This is especially important when working with people who have developmental disabilities, particularly adults, because often they're impulsive and strong. The same thing applies to kids. If you have a great bond with your animal, and he totally trusts you to take care of him and protect him, he'll really relax with clients, and that's when the true therapy happens because he can really enjoy the interaction. Poodles are so intuitive that when they focus, they really can tell what the client needs. Liberty continues to amaze me with how she senses and responds to the people we meet. When a dog feels like he's out there on his own however, he'll feel like he has to protect himself, and that's when they get burned out and stop enjoying interacting with people, including people who are disabled.

I could go on and on forever about AAT. It's my passion. I swear little miracles happen every time we go. I actually just published a book about 101 Ideas for Animal Assisted Therapy. It isn't a training manual, more of a book of activities/interventions that help you utilize AAT to help clients reach their goals. 101 Creative Ideas For Animal Assisted Therapy - Home

Way to go for thinking of these things ahead of time...you've already got a head start! I'm sure you and your poodle will help make a lot of people very happy!
 

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Wow, flufflvr, I am so impressed by your post! You have brought a wealth of knowledge to all of us, and I so admire your dedication to AAT!
I'm going to buy your book, and send the link on to my Therapy Dog group.
Thanks!
Vivienne :)
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you so much Vivienne and flufflvr for your responses! Fluffvr I will definitely read that book. Even though it is a year or two away, this will be my first time owning a dog independently and I really want to put in the time to research and do it correctly - especially given my family situation. I also wanted to thank each of you for the work you do. My brother's school has a program that uses therapy dogs and so many of those children had never experienced the joy of a dog in a safe environment before- I know it makes a difference.

Cindy
 

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Thanks Vivienne and Cindy, I'm always so excited to meet online or in person more therapy animals...especially poodles, and people who are also passionate about it.

Vivienne, I'd love to hear more about the 'bite free' program. It sounds great...and so important! I'd be really interested in learning how the program works. And I have to say, your silver spoo in your avatar is such a gorgeous platinum color! Gorgeous and the temperament of a therapy dog, mmm....the whole package! I've never actually seen a temperament test done on a litter of puppies, I've only read the protocol, and have often wished I could be a fly on the wall to watch it being done. I find it fascinating that so much of the temperament is set at such a young age. Were you able to test your two before choosing them? Do you usually go with 3's or 4's, or a mixture? Just curious.

Cindy, it just makes me smile to imagine your brother and his classmates enjoying the dogs. They are able to bond when people sometimes just aren't able to. You're so smart to plan ahead. I bet since you've had personal experience with the difference AAT can make, that you'll be a great positive force in the field!

Thanks for your enthusiasm regarding the book... I hope you both enjoy the it and find it helpful when coming up with ideas to do with people you visit, and thanks Vivienne for passing the word along!
 
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