Pet Partners requires handlers to have known or lived with their animal for at least six months before they can be tested as therapy volunteers.
Many programs say three months is sufficient and some have no requirements at all.
I get calls all the time from people saying they just adopted a new dog and want to be tested to become therapy volunteers. I tell them we have the six month minimum and they are shocked. They tell me they already know this animal would make a great therapy dog.
Then I ask them two simple questions:
- How does your dog signal when he has to go to the bathroom.
- How does your dog signal when he is stressed.
This makes them think a little. If there is no doggie door or bells on the door to ring, how do you know this animal has to eliminate?
And how you know this animal has had enough and needs a break.
While it only took six seconds for me to know Petey was the dog for me and only six minutes to know he belonged with Benny and me, it took quite a bit longer for me to really know this tiny dog.
It took days for me to figure out how to best help him eat and drink water without teeth.
It took weeks to have him and Benny understand their places in the family.
It took months for Petey to find his voice and be able to make sounds and anything resembling a bark.
It took months for me to understand his needs and wants.
It took months for me to understand his signals and stressors.
It took months for me to teach him the behaviors required such as Sit Stay on a lap for thirty seconds.
And it took months for Petey to become relaxed enough and confident enough to really play.
This last is what pleases me the most. Now after many months Petey is first starting to show his playful, joyful side.
He came to our adopted school this week and really thrilled everyone by being a happy, playful, spirited little dog.
When I was teaching the class I held him and he just settled in and sighed. He is such a happy dog.
For the first time he turned over for belly rubs and went from child to child in our circle making sure everyone got the chance to tickle his belly.
He assumed the play bow position and picked up his tiny head for acknowledgement.
He is eleven years old but it is as if he is a puppy just starting out. I find joy in everything he does and even though I may not have known him as a puppy, I am experiencing his “second puppyhood” now as he has truly become a member of our family.
It has taken the full six months plus to understand this amazing little dog. We could never have passed the Pet Partners test before all this time living with Petey.