Your dog now is very comfortable with strangers approaching him and likes being petted. He loves being held by family members, even people he just met at the dog park. You think he would make an excellent therapy dog.
But does he not only tolerate but enjoy being held by people who may look, sound, smell funny? How about by people with little strength or control of their limbs? By people who may start to hold on too tightly? By people who don’t talk or make eye contact?
Does your dog love this interaction each and every time and never look away, vocalize, move physically away or object in any way?
And how does your dog react to a restraining hug, one in which someone’s hands are all around him and not allowing him to wiggle away?
That is what Pet Partner therapy animals must pass as part of their evaluation – the restraining hug and being touched by several people at once.
Not only is the Pet Partner evaluation held in a location the dog (animal) and owner have never been but with people they have never met. The initial response to touch and interaction from strangers of all types (men, women etc.) is critical to the success of a Pet Partner team.
And if graduates wish to work with the Love Dog team, steadiness and reliability of the dog’s reaction is extremely important. The Love Dogs work with clients where patience and stillness are often the most critical element for the animal. Waiting for that one child to look towards the dog, agree to hand-over-hand assisted petting, sometimes waiting, waiting, waiting for the miracle unassisted touch. The dog has to be comfortable being held by his owner in a position, happy lying on a blanket for long periods of time, comfortable on a blanket on a bed in whatever position they are placed without moving.
When I am working with children on special assignments, such as kids on the autism spectrum, I place Kirby in a spot strategically distanced from the child. Dog knows not to flinch, move, turn position, certainly not to make any sounds. As I move him closer each inch he is moved is his Place to Stay. And when that important first touch comes his way, he cannot react with great joy and jump up or bark or even wag his tail fervently. He has to stay in Place sweetly and look toward the new hands on him. If he is asked to Give Kisses he can but not unless asked to do so.
And certainly the dog cannot wiggle out of that very important hug.
When working with someone who can feel at only one point on their body such as their neck or cheek, or with only one side of their body, will the dog stay close enough in the desired position to be felt at that exact spot?
And often the handler needs to hold their own dog very close as people rush by, equipment is in the way, fire bells are sounding and a host of other instances where the dog must be comfortable steadied by his owner.
There are many ways to introduce these types of touch to your dog. To begin, sit on the floor with your legs crossed and invite your dog to sit in your lap. Slowly put your arms around your dog to hold him gently so he cannot wiggle out of the circle. If he jumps out, begin again, but do not stress your dog.
Once your dog is comfortable being held in the circle of your legs, put him down on the floor in front of you, standing up. Stay down on your dog’s level. Have your dog’s head facing away from you and put one hand under his collar with your fingers pointing towards his face. Cross your other hand over his body and hold on to him with your second hand facing his bottom.
Will your dog stand there and relax into your restraining hug or try to get away? If your dog growls or snaps or jerks away, take a break and then start all over again and ease him into being restrained.
Another type of restraining hug is when you are holding a small dog in your arms. Wrap your arms around the dog so he can’t jump away. Is he comfortable, is he stressed, is he darting his eyes around looking for a way to escape? Does he actually squirm away and jump? Or does he nestle into your body and relax?
When I first did this with Kirby, he started wagging his tail. When I eased up he turned around and kissed my hand and approached for more.
This is a very positive reaction. Over a few days I would give him the tight hug when he didn’t expect it and asked friends to pick him up and hug with both hands. Every time he sighed and relaxed into the arms holding him. This is the sign of a born therapy dog…a natural.
Benny actually took his paws and gave ME a hug – he loves holding on with both paws and children especially love this type of “real hug.”
This is not forcing your dog into a position – it is a natural therapy dog doing what he knows how to do – love fully anyone, anywhere, anytime