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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I am currently in the process of preparing for a golden retriever puppy and I could not be more excited! My goal is to train my puppy to be a therapy dog, I think it would be such a great experience for both of us. I have done lots of research, but I haven't found anything about my question.

I was wondering what (if any) the risks are for a therapy dog. Is it in any way emotionally stressful for them? Will it affect how he interacts with me outside of therapy work? Does it pose a bigger risk for spreading germs when we go back home? I am already involved with health care, so I've been exposed to a lot of germs, I'm just more worried for my family's health. I know that dog's immune systems are different than ours, so essentially I'm more interested in the cognitive side of raising a therapy dog.

Thanks for any help!
 

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Hi and welcome! I had similar goals in mind for my puppy as well.

Therapy work is absolutely emotionally stressful for a dog. When we began our journey, our organization provided six weeks of class plus some preparatory lectures on stress in dogs, how to recognize it and how to be your dog's advocate. We learned to watch for signs of stress in our dogs. We limit our volunteer time to an hour tops.

I haven't really noticed a difference in how Kea interacts with me outside of our therapy work. She has a vest she wears during therapy work, and when that vest goes on, she knows she's working. On the days when we volunteer, Kea is pretty worn out for the rest of the day. Even though she's not necessarily super active physically during our sessions, she's very active mentally.

I don't worry too much about the germs. I am required to submit a vet release annually showing that Kea is up to date on her vaccines and has had a fecal check for parasites. I do have to watch (especially at the nursing home) that someone doesn't slip her a bit of food she shouldn't have. I also had a resident grab and try to eat one of her dog treats once. Now I bring cut up apples and carrots for her instead of dog treats :) We also volunteer at a middle school with two special needs sixth graders. There are other teams within our organization who volunteer at hospitals or with hospice...I think that would be THE most stressful because the dogs absolutely know when a person is sick or dying.

Have you found a breeder yet? Not all goldens are cut out to be therapy dogs. It's important to find a litter/puppy that's likely to have the right kind of personality for the job and a breeder who will be able to help you select the right puppy. Then, for about the first year, socializing the puppy is extremely important. Kea didn't officially start her therapy dog training until she was 2, but we were preparing for it well in advance.

Best of luck to you! :)
 

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It's definitely stressful and tiring for the dog but a good nap afterward usually resolves that. As mentioned above, a good training program will teach you to be very alert to your dogs stress signals and be proactive about intervening before it becomes too much. It will also teach you to be alert to possible hazards like pills dropped on the floor or unidentified treats being slipped to the dog . . . how to deal with people who hug with a strangle hold etc. In nursing homes and hospitals there is an increased risk of picking up an infection. Both the training programs and the institutions may provide information and rules on how to reduce this risk.

In terms of how it affects your relationship with the dog . . . I feel any shared experience tends to increase your bond with your dog. In therapy work the dog and handler are a team and the more they work together the better they get at the job and the better they get to know each other.
 

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I agree with the above posts. I have two therapy dogs myself, a 4 1/2 year old and an almost 2 year old. For Tess things are easier than for Liza, because she has so much more experience ( both dogs started when they were about 18 months), so Liza still is easily overwhelmed by everything that goes on. It may make a difference that I take both dogs only to hospitals. The most important thing is, that you are the advocate for your dog. If the dog is getting tired,even after only half an hour, then you quit, or take a break outside. If a patient is too rough or making the dog feel uncomfortable, you politely take the dog away.
I never allow patients to give the dogs treats, they get something at the end of the visit, before we leave the building. My main reason for that, is that I have seen too many therapy dogs that are only food motivated, so whenever they go up to a person they expect a reward from that person. I am sure you can train good behavior when it comes to treat accepting and 'asking' for treats, but I don't want it for my dogs. Their reward is all the attention they get, plus of course the treat before we go home.
I am not too worried about them catching something from patients. In hospitals it is very clear in what rooms you can go or not go, and of course you have to wash your hands going in and out of a room, or moving from patient to patient in the same room. I usually stroke my girls' heads in between rooms, before I wash in again, so they start to smell very clean...
 

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The most important thing is, that you are the advocate for your dog. If the dog is getting tired,even after only half an hour, than you quit, or take a break outside. If a patient is too rough or making the dog feel uncomfortable, you politely take the dog away.
Yes. This is so very important. People who desire to do therapy work with their dogs are generally nice, kind-spirited people. Sometimes that works against us because we are so focused on helping others that it's easy for us to overlook our dog being stressed. At the school where we volunteer, I take Kea out to the football field for a romp in between her two sessions so she can burn off some steam.

Our therapy organization has some pretty strict rules about treats. Mainly, treats are to be given in a flat hand, telling the dog 'wait' and 'ok'. There is a video they had us watch and we had to practice this with our dogs at home. In this way, we avoid any chance of the dog accidentally grabbing someone's fingers with his teeth. It was something I hadn't really thought about before we got involved, but really, the organization is on the line if a kid goes home and tells her parents a dog bit her. Teeth making contact with skin, even accidentally, can be easily misconstrued as a bite. That's another "danger" to consider and actively work to prevent.
 

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Max and I used to go to the nursing homes every week. We would spend about two hours there, going from room to room, settling in with our special lady at the end and spending an hour or so with her. After she died, we went back to the home, and Max didn't want to be there. I thought it was my grief he was picking up on, so we took a couple weeks off. We went back, and he still didn't want to be there. We tried a few more times, and I accepted that he just no longer wanted to do that kind of work.

We've gone to things with kids, and he's fine. He loves going to the college for stress buster days - it tires him, but he's fine after a nap. He absolutely hates any of the fund raising things we've done, he won't settle down for more than a few minutes.

I do therapy work with him because he's good at it, and as long as he enjoys it, we'll continue. But I won't put him in a position where he isn't comfortable.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Wow, thank you for all of the insight. After the initial excitement, it's just barely setting in that the road to therapy work is a long one, but I can't wait! It really is pretty much all I think about. I'm looking into a litter that should have a pretty calm disposition. This is all new to me, so thanks for all of the help.
 

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Haileyromeo thanks so much for starting this thread. Great information! Sounds like we're in a similar situation. I'm working toward getting a puppy with with intention of pursuing therapy work as well. I've found a breeder who is hopefully expecting a litter (just mated) that they think should produce great therapy dog personalities. It's so exciting isn't it?
 

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That is another thing I wanted to add: talk to your breeder about your dreams for your future puppy. Good breeders do Temperament Testing when the pups are about 8 weeks old, and there are specific things they can look for while testing if they know there are puppy parents who want to take the therapy dog route. My own breeders never allow people to choose their own puppy from a litter. They talk extensively to people about what they want to do with the pup, and then, after the TT, they select the puppy for you. Worked out perfectly both times for me. Tess is exceptional, and I hope Liza will be as good when she is the same age.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
That was actually going to be my next question. I believe the breeder that I am looking into allows the buyer to choose a puppy with their recommendations in mind. Should I be wary of this type of breeder? I feel like I want some sort of say in which puppy I choose, yet I know the breeder knows a lot more than I do.
 

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I personally say that no, a buyer shouldn't chose their own puppy for therapy work...

A good breeder should do temperament testing and therefore know a puppy's temperament. Idk about you but I don't have that kind of knowledge to make that choice. It is just my opinion but I think good breeders should do temperament testing and then place puppies based on the desire and need of each family. If not I'd pick my favorite color maybe and neglect temperament which is ultimately important in therapy work.


That was actually going to be my next question. I believe the breeder that I am looking into allows the buyer to choose a puppy with their recommendations in mind. Should I be wary of this type of breeder? I feel like I want some sort of say in which puppy I choose, yet I know the breeder knows a lot more than I do.


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Max and I used to go to the nursing homes every week. We would spend about two hours there, going from room to room, settling in with our special lady at the end and spending an hour or so with her. After she died, we went back to the home, and Max didn't want to be there. I thought it was my grief he was picking up on, so we took a couple weeks off. We went back, and he still didn't want to be there. We tried a few more times, and I accepted that he just no longer wanted to do that kind of work.

We've gone to things with kids, and he's fine. He loves going to the college for stress buster days - it tires him, but he's fine after a nap. He absolutely hates any of the fund raising things we've done, he won't settle down for more than a few minutes.

I do therapy work with him because he's good at it, and as long as he enjoys it, we'll continue. But I won't put him in a position where he isn't comfortable.
I love that you take Max to college for stress buster days! I work at a university and would love to see that program here. I know so many students could use it.

I used to have a group of students come work for me in the evening to make phone calls to our alumni and donors. I would take my last golden, Emma, with me and they loved having her in the calling room with them. She would lay next to them as they were making phone calls and I would see a lot of them petting her head as they were on the phone. During break time they would all lay on the floor with her. She loved it and soaked it all in.

Emma did escape one time. She went unnoticed out the door as a student was coming in and went into a classroom across the hall that was in session. :doh: One of the students brought her back to the calling room and asked if she could come to class every time. I apologized to the prof afterwards, but he said it was no problem. Next time he would have dog biscuits ready for her. I guess Emma was a therapy dog intern. :)
 
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Great thread. We are getting our puppy in about a month from a breeder whom I trust 100% to pick the right dog for me. Usually I am a control freak so this is a big deal, but I truly believe that the breeder will be MUCH better at identifying the right dog for me based on 8 weeks of living with him/her than I would be after 1-2 hours of visits.

I can't wait to start the process either! My teenage daughter plans to get heavily involved in the training process, and eventually have the dog go to schools nearby also. I am hoping that by involving her, it will be good "therapy" for her too, to help her navigate through the difficult high school years....

K
 

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I love that you take Max to college for stress buster days! I work at a university and would love to see that program here. I know so many students could use it.

I used to have a group of students come work for me in the evening to make phone calls to our alumni and donors. I would take my last golden, Emma, with me and they loved having her in the calling room with them. She would lay next to them as they were making phone calls and I would see a lot of them petting her head as they were on the phone. During break time they would all lay on the floor with her. She loved it and soaked it all in.

Emma did escape one time. She went unnoticed out the door as a student was coming in and went into a classroom across the hall that was in session. :doh: One of the students brought her back to the calling room and asked if she could come to class every time. I apologized to the prof afterwards, but he said it was no problem. Next time he would have dog biscuits ready for her. I guess Emma was a therapy dog intern. :)
What's really crazy is that the college where I teach doesn't do this! It's the OTHER college in town that does it! Max actually made the front page of the paper the last time we did it, so now he thinks he's a rock star. :)

Apparently they tried it once at my college and some student who was afraid of dogs complained. It's very heavily advertised, there are signs everywhere, so anyone who doesn't want to be in that area really has no reason to be. Sad that one person could ruin something for so many.
 

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What's really crazy is that the college where I teach doesn't do this! It's the OTHER college in town that does it! Max actually made the front page of the paper the last time we did it, so now he thinks he's a rock star. :)

Apparently they tried it once at my college and some student who was afraid of dogs complained. It's very heavily advertised, there are signs everywhere, so anyone who doesn't want to be in that area really has no reason to be. Sad that one person could ruin something for so many.
If that student is gone, they should try it again. As long as the area is clearly marked, I wouldn't think the student would have any recourse about them being on campus.

We have had four students enrolled on our campus that have needed service dogs in the past 15 years I've worked here and two of the dogs have lived in the residence halls with their student. It has worked out very well and we've never had an issue.

Hope Max can be a rock star on your campus, too! :)
 

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Great thread. We are getting our puppy in about a month from a breeder whom I trust 100% to pick the right dog for me. Usually I am a control freak so this is a big deal, but I truly believe that the breeder will be MUCH better at identifying the right dog for me based on 8 weeks of living with him/her than I would be after 1-2 hours of visits.

I can't wait to start the process either! My teenage daughter plans to get heavily involved in the training process, and eventually have the dog go to schools nearby also. I am hoping that by involving her, it will be good "therapy" for her too, to help her navigate through the difficult high school years....

K
My Abigail got me through my high school years! :) I got her when I was 13 and she was truly my best friend during those difficult years.
 
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