Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Therapy Dog-in-Training

I really want to get Isaac certified (or registered, different therapy dog organizations call it different things) as a therapy dog, hopefully in the next few months.  I've thought about doing that since shortly after I got him, but I'd been advised it was best to wait until I'd been working with him as a service dog for at least a year first, plus I wanted to give him time to mature a bit and calm down, hopefully a lot.  I believe Isaac would absolutely love doing that, though, and I will enjoy it, too.

There are a number of different organizations that certify/register therapy dogs and I'm not sure which one I want to work with.  I need to do a bit more research on that.

Initially, I want to volunteer with him at a nursing home.  I think Isaac would really enjoy that.

In the meantime, I've posted before about how I think Isaac is sort of an "unofficial therapy dog" around my apartment building.  Nearly all of my neighbors love him (the one that doesn't love him does not like dogs or people, period).  Isaac loves visiting with them.  Now that the weather is nice again, many of our neighbors hang out on the patio outside our building and Isaac has caught on to this and every time we go outside for anything, the first thing he does is head in that direction to see who is outside and to say hello to them.  He doesn't understand why no one is out there at 6:00 am or 10:00 pm or when the weather is rainy.  He always wants to look to see who is there.

Well, one of our neighbors, I'll call him M, is currently in the hospital with pneumonia.  M adores Isaac.  Whenever he sees me and Isaac in the lobby or outside, he calls hello to Isaac and then, as an afterthought, says hello to me.  He tells me, and our other neighbors, often, "I love that dog."  He tells everyone what a good dog Isaac is.  He has somewhat limited use of his arms and hands.  He always bends down so Isaac can kiss his face.

M is physically disabled and uses a wheelchair.  He also has a speech impairment.  None of this bothers Isaac in the least.  While I often have trouble understanding what M says, Isaac does not seem to have any trouble understanding him.  Maybe he doesn't understand the exact words, but he understands an invitation to put his paws on M's lap, to kiss M on the face, to present his ears for rubbing.

This evening I decided Isaac and I would go visit M in the hospital.  The hospital is only about a mile away and I wasn't planning to stay long, so it would be a short trip.  I knew M would be delighted to see Isaac and of course Isaac is always up for going anywhere.  But also, I though it would be interesting to see how Isaac responded in a hospital setting.  It would be sort of like training for being a therapy dog.

While Isaac is accustomed to being around things like wheelchairs and walkers, IV's and hospital smells and hospital beds are new to him.  He didn't blink, though.  He stood by M's bed so M could pet his head for a minute, then lay down to doze on the floor while I sat in a chair and chatted with M for a bit. 

When I was ready to leave, I wanted Isaac to put his paws up on the side of the bed so M could pet him more easily.  A few months ago, I taught Isaac the "paws up" command.  He does paws up on my lap but he will do it on anyone or anything else I point to or touch while giving the command, like my couch or bed or a chair.  One of the reasons I taught him "paws up" was so that I could let him know when it is OK to put his paws on someone's lap (and ideally he won't do it if not given the OK), but it was also so that I could then teach him "off," which means to get his paws off someone or something.  In typical Isaac fashion, he mastered "paws up" in a couple of days and "off" in a few more.

He seemed a bit uncertain about doing paws up on M's hospital bed, though.  I gave him the command a couple times and then he did it.  M was delighted.  His face broke into a big smile.  Isaac then felt reassured, I guess, because he then flopped sideways so that his head was on M's chest.  I was standing very close by and being very careful to make sure Isaac didn't get tangled up in M's IV line or anything like that.

The visit was a great success.  M was really happy to see Isaac.  As we were leaving, he called out the door of his room after us, "I love you."  To Isaac, not to me.  It was the loudest and the clearest that I've ever heard him speak.

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