How would you describe your Welsh Terrier? Smart, stubborn, active, social, mischievous? Would you ever say gentle or cuddly?
When you think about therapy dogs, the more compliant breeds probably come to mind. Or, you may think of those adorable lap dogs. But our Welsh are lovable, inquisitive and intelligent with outgoing personalities. If your Welsh loves people and is tolerant of other dogs, then your dog has the key traits to be molded into a good therapy dog.
The 10-part Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test is a great place to start. Diane Orange, (breeder of both my current Welsh) told me there is no reason you can’t get a CGC on any Welsh Terrier. It’s good basic obedience and socialization training, and the CGC is now a recognized AKC title. If you already have a CGC, Comet enjoying her therapy dog job with assisted living patient you can apply retroactively for the title.
CGC requires the dog have good manners in public and basic obedience skills such as politely greeting strangers, tolerance of dogs, walking on a loose lead, walking through a crowd, responding to the sit and down commands, coming when called, showing confidence with noise and distractions, sitting politely for petting, accepting being brushed, and waiting with a stranger.
Therapy dog testing adds things intended to simulate what you might encounter when visiting hospitals, schools, rehab centers and nursing homes or assisted living facilities: noise, distractions, crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, food and excited children. I admit the extra test components are not necessarily easy (especially the “leave it” of offered and unattended food!). Fortunately, many training facilities offer classes for the CGC and therapy dog tests combined.
Comet (CH Counselor Fire Dream CD BN RN THD CGC) had her CGC, so I decided to try the therapy dog test. Hopeful and nervous, I knew the noise was no problem, and she loves children. But what if she jumped on the wheelchair patient or grabbed the moving cane? And the food test! Comet will eat anything.
Waiting our turn, Comet was acting like a puppy. Pulling on her lead, wanting to play, ignoring all my commands. My fears mounted. It was our turn and suddenly, Comet settled. She knew it was her time to shine, and she rose to the occasion. We passed!
Passing the test (and written exam as handler) was just the beginning. I was nervous again when we made our initial visits to a nursing home. Would she let people pet her or squirm, jump or find food under a chair? She was OK—not perfect, but acceptable. Over time, we have both improved. Comet is calm, patient, intuitive, loving. She has learned not to give face kisses or totally wash hands with her tongue. I have learned to whisper in her ear to reinforce her behavior while people pet her. Her tail wags constantly, and she nuzzles to encourage people to respond. Comet loves the attention, and I love seeing the people smile and respond to her.
I no longer worry about her grabbing food or jumping. There is none of the “terrier behavior” I see at home where she is my home security system and a bossy, butt-biting, food thief. It was not an overnight transformation. It has taken reinforcement (particularly of the food “leave it” command) and many visits to facilities.
In mid 2011, the AKC created a new title to recognize dogs actively performing pet assisted therapy. These THD dogs must be licensed through any of five independent therapy dog organizations and have documented at least 50 visits. This makes therapy dog visits both a wonderful opportunity to contribute to your community and a way to earn or add to your Welsh’s title(s). Comet is the first and only Welsh Terrier to date to earn the AKC THD title, with over 100 documented visits.
Consider getting your Welsh involved in pet therapy. When you see a child’s confidence and reading improve or see a patient smile and respond to your dog’s touch, you will be rewarded in ways you can only imagine.
Janice Simmons
1st published in the May, 2014 WAG