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How to have a successful first animal therapy visit

Kissing Max
Kissing Max

You completed the Pet Partner Handler Workshop and passed the Handler/Animal Evaluation. Your registration has been finalized and you are ready to begin your therapy career. Choosing that first assignment is key to your success.

If you have a Pet Partner affiliate team in your area, ask if you can shadow some facilities and assignments without your animal to get a feel for each place.

Then once you determine where both you and your animal will excel and have the most to contribute, arrange for a brief first visit.

One of the Love Dogs newest teams had the most incredible first visit today. They were prepared and knew what to expect.

They chose to work with one of our more demanding populations, a group home for multiply challenged youth. One young girl in particular has come a long way in the years we have been working there. At first she was not receptive to the dogs at all. She was rough and scared and had to be watched very carefully. We determined that larger dogs were safer with her and each handler and dog learned how to work with this young girl while always protecting their dog.

Over the years so much progress had been made. This child came to love the dog teams and had one special friend, an Australian Shepherd, Izzy, and the dog's handler. Both human and dog formed a real bond with this child. When the therapy team had to leave as they were in the military and moving out of state, we watched as the child regressed in her behaviors. Even though we had other therapy dogs visiting there, her special dog was gone and she knew it.

But after a couple of months we found a remarkable mother and daughter team with their Chocolate Lab and a new relationship was established. This team visited as often as they could but we knew a second team would be so wonderful.

And so today she found a second friend. Our newest Love Dog team is different - it is a man with his Border Collie, Max. We really wanted to see how this child responded to a male volunteer and at first she was just fascinated by him.

But when we saw Max he reminded her so of Izzy. At first she seemed a little confused - maybe her dear friend was back! She tested this new team with her flailing arms and rocking motions. But they kept up with her beautifully.

After a very short time, a new relationship was cemented when our child leaned in to give the big dog a kiss on his back! Success!

Then Max was introduced to the other children in the home and they all got to meet this beautiful dog.

Max's owner was superb with this young girl and they laughed their way through the first visit. He also recognized when it was enough and Max had to take a break. It was a very emotional day.

Now we can have a special dog and handler with this child every week again and watch her growth and progress and development as her quality of life is enriched and her ability to socialize and relate to humans and animals expands.

So the key to success on your first therapy visit is to be prepared for what to expect, know your dog very well and understand when he has had enough for a first time, know your own limitations and what type of population you are comfortable with and smile, smile, smile!

To learn more about the Love Dog therapy team in Las Vegas go to and to see them on Fox 5 News click on SHINING STAR on the home page.

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