A.J. Takes the Therapy Dog Test

September 20, 2014

When I was looking to adopt a dog, one of the things I was hoping to find was a dog with the temperament to be a therapy dog. I liked the idea of being able to take my dog to hospitals or nursing homes and help brighten peoples’ days. I thought A.J. would be a good candidate for this until I brought him home and found out he was crazy. But after all our hard work, and passing the Canine Good Citizen test, it looked like we’d actually be able to do it.  Today, we did our testing to become members of Therapy Dogs, Inc. (now named Alliance of Therapy Dogs).

I have to admit I was not optimistic when the day began. The TDInc testers in this area test dogs all at once one time per quarter. They had just done their testing last week, which means we were going to have to wait another three months. Fortunately one of the testers, Tom, received a few requests right after testing and agreed to test us all this weekend. It was very nice of him to do this, so I agreed to show up when and where he asked, but the conditions were not ideal. We were meeting at a very large park at 9:00 AM. A.J. in a park first thing in the morning? I really thought I was setting him up for failure.

I decided the best plan would be to get up early and feed A.J. right away, give his food an hour to settle, then drive to the park and exercise him there. We ran into the extra issue of road closures and major events in town that we had to work around. But we arrived at the park just before 7:30.

We walked around the park, then walked through the surrounding neighborhood. I was going to head back to the car at 8:40 to give A.J. some water and a snack and give him some time to relax. At 8:35 he decided he couldn’t wait to get to the car for water and lunged for a deep muddy puddle, pulling the leash out of my hand and into the puddle. He also became super-focused on squirrels as we walked around, they were absolutely everywhere.

We went back to the car and he got a drink of some water that didn’t have mud in it, and a small snack. As I was getting his water I saw someone drive through the parking lot with a dog in the car that looked just like the dog Tom had described as his. It was time to get started.

A.J. walked pretty nicely up to where Tom and the other two testees were. We all went to sit at some benches and talk and go through paperwork. Greg came with us and was put in charge of paperwork for the duration of the test. He was told to stay away from the testing so as not to act as any kind of influence on A.J. during the test.

We walked into a clearing and started the test. We started with A.J. Tom and I walked towards each other with our dogs, greeted each other, and talked for a couple of minutes. A.J. sat quietly and was wonderful. Passed the first test.

After everyone had their meet and greet, we were told to form a circle and walk around to the left. This started a little shaky because that puts A.J. on the inside with me turning into him. This is difficult since he tries to stay a little ahead of me. I had to keep pulling on him a little which worried me at first because the leash is supposed to be loose the whole time. But fortunately he quickly figured out what we were doing and started walking along beside me in our circle. We turned around to the right and the left, circling right then left again. We slowed down, we sped up. A.J. was doing great. Pass again.

Next was the touching test. Tom came up to each dog to meet them, pet them, and play with their ears and feet. This one didn’t go perfectly because while we were waiting our turn A.J. spotted a squirrel. When Tom came over A.J. barely noticed him because he was so zoomed in on the squirrel. But he sat nicely and let Tom touch him all over. Tom asked if he could stand. I told him to stand, but he was so excited and ready to run after the squirrel he couldn’t do anything but sit and fidget. Fortunately Tom understood the whole squirrel problem, and A.J. did have a moment where he looked over and was very sweet. Pass.

The final test was the dogs sitting nicely while Tom came running up behind making a lot of noise and being generally disruptive and a little scary. A.J. didn’t like it, he flipped around and hid behind me, but he didn’t try to run or bark or anything, so we passed again.

That was pretty much it. A.J. did light years better than the other dogs. We sat down to get Tom’s feedback. He started with A.J. and just said “He’s great, no problems there. You know you have a high energy dog.” He was obviously happy with A.J.’s test. The other two he had more serious feedback for, but he passed them anyway.

After passing the test we have to do three observations. One can be anywhere, two must be at a care facility. So Tom asked if we wanted to do the first observation there at the park, and we all agreed. We lined up to go find people who would be willing to come up and pet our dogs. A.J. and I took up the rear, which turned out to be a very good thing. There were two squirrels playing in a tree nearby. This was just too much for poor A.J. He started pulling and acting up. I looked ahead and saw Tom had his back turned, so gave A.J. a few good pops on the collar. He was still extremely distracted when the volunteer came up to pet him, but I lucked out there, too. The volunteer asked about A.J.’s breed then said “I had a Springer/German Shorthaired Pointer mix.” I replied “Wow, that must have been a lot of energy.” When I pointed out that A.J. was a little obsessed with the squirrels right then, this man understood perfectly. A.J. let him pet him, he just wasn’t paying any attention to him.

We went and found one more volunteer, farther away from the squirrels. A.J. was really good while he was petted. We passed our first observation.

Yay!! Two more observations and we’re a certified therapy dog team! The next observation is Monday night. I’m more hopeful for this one than I was for today’s testing.

On another note, we also had our first day of our new agility class this afternoon. A.J. did great, but I’m not sure the format of the class is great for A.J. Some of the dogs were reactive (I’m so happy A.J. is no longer one of them!), so our trainer, Mary, had us work with one dog at a time. That meant a lot of crate time for each dog. There were a total of six dogs and three of them were absolutely horrible in their crates. (Not A.J., he did great!) So there was a lot of noise and crying, and just a little agility. A.J. quickly figured out everything but the jumps. He could do two jumps in a row, but three was too much, he kept veering off around the last jump to come over to me. But he’ll figure it out.

After all that, A.J. of course still expected his evening walk, but it’s been a long day for all of us, so we’re in for the night. He did great today, I’m so proud of my little guy.