Training Therapy Dogs to Provide Comfort

Featured Article, Home & Family
on September 8, 2014
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Susan Trottos pup, Triever, is the fourth in a distinguished line of therapy dogsanimals helping people recover from ills, ranging from physical maladies to depression and just plain loneliness.

The 13-month-old golden retriever passed his American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test, required by Therapy Dogs International (TDI), at the age of 8 months, but he must go through yet more paces before becoming certified.

Triever has already mastered some tricks to make a brighter day for folks, Trotto says. Im hoping hell be a natural.

If his predecessors are any indication, Triever should pass the test.

In 1985, Trotto, a resident of Yardley, Pa., (pop. 2,441) learned about TDI and its work with hospitals, nursing homes, and shut-ins. I had done a lot of obedience training and won ribbons with Ginger, my 6-year-old golden, but wanted to do something besides get bragging rights and go to shows.

Soon after Ginger was certified, Susans other golden, Chris, was tested. This work was made for him. Always extremely calm, Chris was absolutely the best therapy dog ever, she says.

After that, Susan bought Morganalso a goldenand he, too, was certified.

I still go to shows, but I got hooked on therapy dog work because it seems more purposeful. Its good to know my dogs made somebody happy. Sometimes were a nursing home residents only visitors.

All three dogs have since died, Ginger in 1990 and Chris in 1999, Morgan last January, just a month after his last therapy visit. One of his tricks was scent discrimination, where Trotto would tell someone to mix an object containing her scent with others. Often, they piled them up, trying to fool the dog, she says. Morgan would knock down the pile and find the correct item every time.

Now Trotto has Triever, a dog with big tracks to fillyet shes sure he has the heart for it.

A pets unconditional love provides immeasurable comfort. Being a therapy dog volunteer is about bringing some of that happiness and companionship to shut-ins and nursing home residents, says June Hixson, president of PAWSPets Are Wonderful Supporta club to which Trotto and Triever belong.

Therapy dogs need special training, testing, certification, and vaccinations, and that costs money, Hixson says of the commitment. It also takes a special person who can give a lot of self.

In order for Triever to be certified, PAWS requires he become familiar with wheelchairs, gurneys, etc., as well as having the right temperament (more important than breed) and lots of obedience training. Using only motivation and positive reinforcement, PAWS training prepares volunteers and animals for educational visits to schools, libraries, and senior and day care centers.

At nursing facilities, volunteer teams perform for large groups and visit with small groups or one-on-one, where residents often pet, hug, and kiss the dogs, often recalling stories of their own animals.

Its very rewarding because we see the difference we make in peoples lives every time we go out, Hixson says. It lifts their spiritsand these dogs know when someone needs them.

As for Trotto, she plans to spend more time showing and volunteering with Triever once hes certified.

Its one of the reasons Im retiring, the research chemist says. Until now, Ive only been able to go out on weekends. Now Ill be able to go during the day, when its needed the most.

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