Each week I get calls or emails from people saying they "just adopted the best dog" and want to be evaluated to become therapy teams NOW.
I begin by explaining that Pet Partners has a policy that the animal must have lived with the handler for at least six months before being evaluated. I also explain our process and that we do not go straight to testing but a Handler Workshop is required.
This is met with many different responses such as:
- I just know this dog will be a great therapy dog
- I already know everything about this dog in two weeks
- This dog loves everyone especially children
- Why would I have to attend a Workshop without my animal
Then I ask a few simple questions:
- How does your animal express stress and show you when he has had enough?
- How does your animal tell you he has to go to the bathroom and where does he go?
- How does your animal show you he loves children and meeting all new people?
Usually new adopters or new owners have no idea how their dog expresses stress or even what stress signals are. They do not realize that yawning or licking can be signs of stress.
They say they have a doggie door and yard so their dog does not have to signal when he had to go out. Well, what would you do in a school or hospital? Your dog must have signals to tell you it is time and must be able to go in places other than his own yard or potty pads.
And almost always they tell me the dog shows great excitement when meeting children and new people - by jumping and wagging its tail and barking and even licking.
Those are not what we look for when we say dogs should be calm and comfortable and friendly around children.
And one thing many people do not realize is that a dog adopted from a shelter or rescue or rehomed for any reason at any age needs three to six months to really get settled into their new home. Especially if it is an older dog or dog with an unknown or difficult past.
I know Petey has grown to be the most wonderful therapy dog but in the first months with me I was learning something new about him every day. The sounds he was able to make after he lost all his teeth were very un-dog like sounds! What sounded like a growl to most people became his "I have to go potty" sound. And the squeak I thought was so cute and became known as his "happy" voice, made some people startle!
So take the time to really get to know your animal and become a knowledgeable partner at the other end of the leash.