Advice for potential AAT dog?

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Advice for potential AAT dog?

This is a discussion on Advice for potential AAT dog? within the Working Dogs forums, part of the Dog Shows and Performance category; I just adopted a puppy and I was hoping to train her as a therapy dog. She's 3 months old, super smart/learns quickly, loves to ...

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Old 12-28-2014, 10:27 PM
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Question Advice for potential AAT dog?

I just adopted a puppy and I was hoping to train her as a therapy dog. She's 3 months old, super smart/learns quickly, loves to meet people and other dogs, playful, affectionate and very energetic. I did a bunch of personality tests on her like squeezing her feet, calling her to me, banging pots, touching her all over, making weird noises, etc. and she wasn't bothered. Right now we're working on more socialization, exposure to different places, quitting puppy behaviors like nipping and stealing things, and basic obedience. Is there anything else I should do or expose her to in hopes she might blossom into a therapy dog? And are there any red flags (aside from obvious aggression) that might be a sign I should abandon this idea? I also know there's no guarantee, and if she's just a well behaved pet I'll be pleased with that too.
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Old 01-03-2015, 09:50 PM
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If you're thinking of working with a particular therapy dog group, check the list of testing requirements. You should be able to do that on-line. Also, if you're interested in getting AKC therapy dog titles, check the AKC guidelines for therapy dog titles. They have specific groups with which they work--that is, if you want an AKC title, you need to be putting in your hours through one of those specific groups.

Also, you could check to see if any of the groups in which you might be interested have a training class to prepare you for the test. I went with Therapy Dogs International simply because that's about the only established group in my area, and I was lucky in that the local chapter was founded by a woman with a really nice training facility where they do a four week, once a week class to prepare teams for the test about three times a year. The training facility is also where the TDI testing takes place. TDI doesn't require that you do the pre-test class (I'm not sure what other groups require), but I found it really helpful, since it gave me the opportunity to test my dog with distractions like wheelchairs, walkers, children etc. Plus, the class was only $20, so it was a real bargain. They do require that your dog knows basic obedience prior to taking the course, however.

In addition, TDI will not test a dog for certification until he/she is at least a year old (again, not sure about other groups), but we had dogs a little younger than that in the class. Your puppy is still pretty young, however. In the meantime, socialize the heck out of your puppy--take him/her any public place dogs are allowed and introduce the puppy safely to as many different types of people as you can. That will help the puppy get used to meeting and greeting people in public and help you get used to facilitating such greetings in a safe, responsible manner. I couldn't believe how many people just haven't a clue about how to meet/greet a dog for the first time until I started doing that. It will also help you figure out how your dog most likes to meet people. With my dog, for instance, if someone holds out his/her hand, he'll just plop his head into it, but he will back right up if a stranger's hand comes over his head, simply because he has no idea where it's coming from. He doesn't do so fearfully--he just wants to see what's going on, so he backs up to get that perspective--but people don't alway get that and jump to the assumption that he's afraid. Because he's small, I also have to keep people from grabbing at him and attempting to pick him right up off the ground without so much as asking--and that goes for adults as much as kids. It would never occur to me to do that to a stranger's leashed dog, but apparently it does occur to some people.
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Old 01-04-2015, 11:20 PM
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Right now I know Stella is too young to do more than basic stuff--or even know if she'd really like that sort of thing as an adult. We're going to slowly work our way up. I know it's dangerous and foolish to try and make a dog a "therapy dog" unless you have total trust in their behavior and obedience. But I'll definitely take your advice to look up some therapy groups, maybe that TDI or Pet Partners. And does the AKC therapy program require them to be purebreds? If so that can't apply. I might see if I can find someplace to expose her to wheelchairs, walkers or other medical equipment while young so it's not as scary when she's grown up. Even then, she's pretty bombproof and doesn't do more than startle when she hears a loud noise or sees something strange. The only thing she's scared of is getting in the car--but that's probably because she was in a van for 15 hours to be transported from the south to north last month. I'll also ask the trainers she sees what they think she should do. Thanks. And I agree some people have absolutely no idea how to greet a dog, and seem to think it's ok to let their children to whatever they want to strange dogs.
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Old 01-05-2015, 04:14 PM
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The AKC does not require that a dog be a purebred in order to earn AKC therapy dog titles. Neither does TDI (or probably any other therapy dog program; TDI is just the one with which I'm familiar). You would have to register your dog with the AKC but if you're registering your dog as an All-American (AKC's catchall term for mixed breeds), you can actually do that on-line. I know that when my dog passed the TDI test, he automatically qualified for both his CGC and CGCA, because the AKC knows that the TDI test covers everything on both those tests (and a bit more actually, since there it also includes things specific to therapy dog work that aren't necessary for a dog to know just to pass the CGC or CGCA tests). I don't know if that's the same for the other groups that the AKC recognizes as part of its therapy dog program, but I would guess that it might. Certainly you could find that out if you checked on the AKC website.

The AKC therapy titles are actually easier to get than TDI titles (the first TDI title requires 50 visits but the AKC novice title only requires 20) but there's no "double-dipping." That is, if you turn in your first twenty visits to the AKC to get their title, you have to earn an additional 50 to qualify for your first TDI title. Same thing with TDI's Tail-Wagging Tutors program. If you count those visits toward a TDI title, you can't count them toward the 100 visits necessary to earn a Tail-Wagging Tutors title (I believe there's only one of those; I haven't been involved with TWT because my working hours would interfere with me doing that).

You can go on the sites of any of the therapy dog programs and see what a dog is required to do to pass one of their tests. When I was practicing for the TDI test, I would sometimes quietly "borrow" strangers' children for the portion of the test where the dog has to sit quietly and watch children playing ten feet away. I'd just go to the park on a nice Saturday morning and watch the tourists go by with their kids. It's a little harder to find people in wheelchairs or on walkers regularly, unless there's, say, a nursing home nearby that wouldn't mind you practicing there.

But yeah, your dog's still quite young, so you can't train anything for long anyway. And the basic obedience stuff is great, even if your dog never does anything beyond being a well-behaved pet, since there are lots of dogs out there who aren't well-behaved pets, because no one ever bothered to teach them anything.

Just as a side note, the AKC now allows mutts to participate in basically everything other than conformation (for obvious reasons--no breed standard would exist against which to judge mutts), so you could also look into rally, obedience, or agility, depending on what you think you and your dog might enjoy. I've never done anything other than therapy work, but some of the dogs in our TDI chapter also do obedience, rally, and/or agility. We also have a few who cart, including a pair of Great Danes that cart in brace, which is really amusing, since Danes aren't your typical carting dogs.
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Old 01-05-2015, 08:19 PM
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We are definitely going to try agility too, possibly even flyball. In fact I chose her obedience school because they specialize in agility. I looked up the TDI requirements and they seemed most cost effective than some others but it seemed very volunteer/hospital oriented. I'm a social worker and *ideally* I'm hoping I could train Stella to be an AAT dog and find a job where I can take her to work. So rather than doing visits to hospitals and nursing homes I'd expect her to participate in a play therapy session with a troubled child, comfort a woman telling a story of assault or demonstrating the importance of clear communication with commands for someone who struggles with social situations. She would definitely need to do lots of those things but I'm having trouble finding things that extend past that. I'll see if the trainers at the school know any other resources too. Thanks for the info on the AKC as well.
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Old 01-10-2015, 07:20 PM
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I agree that TDI appears, on the surface, to be hospital and nursing home-oriented, but I think that's because that's what the original chapter started out doing, but depending on the chapter, you might end up doing a wide variety of things. All it takes is for an organization to agree to work with TDI. For instance, our chapter is very active in the school system through Tail Wagging Tutors, but members have also visited at places like Children's Care Hospital, which is for mentally and physically challenged children and local facilities with programs for autistic children. We've also recently done stress relief sessions for local college students during finals week. What you're suggesting is something that TDI dogs have done and could do, unless your local chapter is absolutely adamant about working only with the elderly and infirm.
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Old 01-10-2015, 08:45 PM
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Hm, I"ll consider that. I'll have to see what the local schools are like as Stella gets older and if she still shows signs of being a good therapy dog. I know there's one local school that's TDI focused but I'm not sure about the one Stella goes to. I know they do CGC so it might be AKC based.
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