Therapy Dog Questions (long)

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Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby Cogshall » Sat Apr 03, 2010 2:11 am

I have a question for the therapy dog people. I have started Minnie D in therapy dog classes and she has been a star so far. Tonight we had our first nursing home visit. Interesting reaction from her and I am wondering how it correlates with others who have gone down this path. A little background on Minnie first to put things in perspective.

She was born 6 months to the day after my son died and I have been holding her in tears and sorrow since the day she was born. I have never cared if she accomplished a thing as she has helped me get through every day.

This is a dog who not been around children. While visiting a friend a couple of years ago she and their three year old became instant buddies. When he had a temper tantrum on the floor with arms and legs flailing she was over there nuzzling his neck, trying to sooth him. This is a dog whenever anyone new comes to my house or visits in my trailer always jumps up, looks the person directly into their eyes, looking right into their soul then usually puts her head on their shoulder for a moment and lays down draped across their lap.

She has always had tremendous empathy. This is a dog who has traveled around the country, staying in many strange homes and lots of motel rooms and is usually very easy going with everything.

At her visit tonight she was obviously anxious. Not spooked but a bit nervous and anxious. She was gentle in meeting individuals but a bit aloof. Not shutting down but not looking people in the eye with a happy greeting. Her last visit with an individual in their room I saw more of her usual self and she did respond more directly with the person. She has never been around the elderly before. Is this a common first time reaction? I got a very strong feeling of not fear but being overwhelmed. I suspect she might have been overwhelmed by the amount of need surrounding her and not knowing what to do with it. Or just overwhelmed with all the newness of it.

I worry that I didn't work hard enough to make it fun for her. And because she loves to look people in the eye and especially loves to snuffle at their nose (rarely licks) and was not able to do that at the nursing home could that have thrown her? Will enjoyment and purpose come later with experience? Anyone else have thoughts or experiences to share on this?
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby hiiku02 » Sat Apr 03, 2010 3:29 am

When I was a teen, I volunteered avidly at the local seniors home. A friend and I started bringing our pets (there was no therapy dog training in town and no one in town knew of Delta at the time). My dog, Dino, was always very friendly and loving, adored people and animals of all kinds. However, the first time I took him into the seniors home, he was very nervous. He wouldn't leave the lobby area, although he was somewhat reserved when people came to see him.

The second time we visited the home, things were very different. There was a special lady waiting at the entrance for us. She had been a hoarder and animal control had just taken away her 50+ dogs and she had been placed in the home. Anyhow, she heard that we were bringing the dogs that day and had started waiting at the entrance right after breakfast. When we arrived, my friend's dog - who didn't have a problem going to visit people last time - greeted her briefly and was ready to continue. Dino gave her all kinds of love and was his charming self. After that, he was more than ready to make the rounds to visit everyone. Dino quickly became the star at the seniors home. People saved scraps from meals for him, whipped out HUGE boxes of cookies, etc.

In my case, my dog was nervous the first time because there was so much new stuff/people/smells and it took him a little bit to figure out how he could help people. He had to learn which people he had to walk up real close to (due to paralyzation, etc) so they could pet him, which people he needed to sit by for a while. One of the instances that I remember the best was a particular lady who suffered from dementia. The staff at the home had NEVER heard her say anything nice, but she would sit and pet Dino for a few minutes before saying she didn't like dogs. That never happened with any of the other animals, even after we stopped volunteering.
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby Sarasvita » Sat Apr 03, 2010 3:49 am

Cogshall wrote: Will enjoyment and purpose come later with experience? Anyone else have thoughts or experiences to share on this?


Mary, I believe this to be true. I have 3 Therapy certified dogs. One just doesn't enjoy and I stopped trying to make her. The other 2 are fine each with different people & different situations. It did take them a bit to get into the groove of it all. A nursing home is an overwhelming place for people, imagine a dog with their acute senses. It must be incredibly off putting to them. The smell of medicine, body fluids, cleaning agents, food cooking, old food, noise & commotion........ Give it some time, take it slow and Minnie D just may become the star of the nursing home. And if she doesn't, well you tried. Maybe another venue would work for her a reading program or children's hospital(if you could bear it).

My one boy is incredible adept at comforting the dying. He normal stands on the floor to be talked too or patted but when he decides he needs to jump into a bed to snuggle the person is usually not there the next time we visit.
My girl is just a sweet clown she wants to smile, roll around on the floor, get lots of pettting and is always in search of food.
But both seem to know who doesn't want them around.

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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby critterz-mom » Sun Apr 04, 2010 2:44 am

My old Whippet boy--now gone for several years :angelic-cyan: --used to go to a local retirement home and spend the day in their TV/Rec room, where people came and went all day. He would make the rounds and visit with people who came in there. I went to pick him up one day and he was nowhere to be found. The nurses all started looking for him and he turned up in the room of a very old lady who apparently wasn't able to get out of bed by herself. He was snuggled on the bed with her and she was reading the Bible to him when the nurses found them. We had no idea why he took it into his head to go roaming--the old lady said he came into her room and jumped up on the bed. He never left the Rec room again in all the times that he went there. I've thought about getting my current dog certified to be a therapy dog, he dearly loves to visit with people everywhere he goes.
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby Phizzymartini » Sun Apr 04, 2010 1:14 pm

I think Minne will be comfortable on her next visit. The environment was totally new to her - so many different smells, people, feeling vibes from different people, etc. As she becomes comfortable with the environment, her caring instincts will take over. I know you two will bring much happiness to others. Thank you so much for becoming involved in therapy work - it is the truly the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I never dreamed Martini and Phizz would bring so much joy to so many different people. I, too, have experienced something that I find very interesting. For almost two years we have visited Frances at one of the nursing homes we go to regularly. Martini was always the one who seemed to enjoy visiting her the most at the nursing home. Now she has been moved to the hospice facility that we visit and Phizz has become her main visitor. He will jump up on her bed and lay across her legs like he is saying " Ok, it's my shift to care for Miss Frances."
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby Cogshall » Sun Apr 04, 2010 4:00 pm

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I think Minnie D will let me know where her she wants to be in all this. I am most interested in Hospice work. We'll see if she is. Her TDI testing is in a couple of weeks and I expect her to do fine with it. The sit stays seems to be the hardest for her and where she is the most inconsistent. I hope that this is something she will enjoy as I am looking forward to participating.
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby Phizzymartini » Sun Apr 04, 2010 6:29 pm

I think I enjoy our hospice work the best. I especially love bringing a little distraction and smiles to families and friends during a very dark and sad time in their lives.

Best of wishes and keep us posted!
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby merril » Sun Apr 04, 2010 9:08 pm

I think it could be the smell that scares them.
I have done therapy over the years with some of mine and they were always happiest in the rooms where the people congregated like the games/tv room.
Hospitals smell like vets/hospitals and I think they are not sure what will happen there.
If the weather is good and patients are sitting outside in the sun or patio area, see how she responds to them then. Might make a difference.
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby CincyWhips » Sun Apr 04, 2010 10:48 pm

I have 2 therapy whippets, and they are both very different.

Lacey enjoys going on all visits, but gets overwhelmed and tired after about 15 minutes in the nursing home. She is always polite, but her tail stops wagging and she loses the bounce in her step. I feel it is because of the strong emotions surrounding her, and also because the elderly are obviously less energetic than the children she visits at schools. Lacey absolutely loves children, and will light up for hours with them.
It did take Lacey about 3 or 4 visits to get used to all of the new smells in the nursing home, and now after over 2 years of volunteering, she typically wags her tail and walks up to people for the first 15 or 20 minutes, and then fades into the background for the rest of the visit.
When we visit schools (science fairs, reading activities, etc.), she's a happy, friendly girl the whole time.
My other therapy whippet, Wager, is never outgoing. He is a wonderful dog for people who are afraid of dogs. He walks right up beside everyone and stands very still waiting for a pet. We call him the "therapy coffee table" because he doesn't respond or move much. I honestly got him certified because I thought it would be good for him to get out and experience new things. He's typically a very fearful dog, and I thought the quiet nursing home would be a good outing for him. It turns out that people there really love his calm nature. Even though he's not a dog that drapes his head over his patients or wags his tail at them, they pet him and call him handsome and really appreciate him!

Give Minnie some time. It sounds like she's going through exactly what most therapy dogs go through on their first few visits. Strange smells and emotions, and it is overwhelming. She's going to be a wonderful therapy dog! Good luck with your test!

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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby AlliePixieBug » Mon Apr 05, 2010 1:02 am

when i was doing therapy work with Pixie, she was happiest doing the READ program where we sat in a quiet room in the library and kids read books to her. she got to relax on a blanket, get petted, get treats and hear good stories. she was OK at the assisted living facility we went to but a bit more aloof. and she was terrible at the hospital because she just wanted to finish the food off of everyone's trays.

Bug came with us a few times to the assisted living facility in VA and though it is supposed to be a no no - the patients most loved it when she would put her paws on their lap and lick their faces. yes, i know, this is really not supposed to be allowed, but sometimes you gotta bend the rules a bit <grin>

i am sure you will find the right situation for Minnie D to share her empathy and talent for caring
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby artemiswhip8s » Mon Apr 05, 2010 12:15 pm

I totally agree with Merril. The first thing that came to mind is the smells like nothing any whippet has smelled before. Some dogs don;t mind but others do have a sensitivity to the odors. Certainly try again. If you find it is not a fun activity you can of course switch venues. Even though she is not familiar with kids she may pefer a library stint where she gets to lay on her cushy bed and have kids read to her. No stress of meeeting someone new around each corner.

Good luck and have FUN!
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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby Janet and the Hounds » Mon Apr 05, 2010 9:26 pm

This is a very interesting thread! I stop doing therapy dog visits because I was exhausted after the visits. My dogs got more comfortable each time, but after a long day at work I was exhausted. We used to go to nursing homes and the oncology unit of the local hospital. I think if I got involved again in therapy dog visits, I would go with a group of indivuals so that the visits could be shared among dogs and handlers. I found that the staff in the oncology unit had the greatest need, more so than the patients. I too would be more drawn to hospice BUT with my mother being in a rehab unit for nearly 5 months recently, I can honestly say that the therapy dog visits meant a lot to her and to ME!

I wonder if you could take Minnie to see just a few residents and not feel the need to see everyone-- at least until she feels more comfortable with the strange sights/smells/people. Or if you have a friend or two that could also make visits with you so that all of the residents that want a visit from a dog get seen, but that it's not overwhelming for one dog and handler.


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Re: Therapy Dog Questions (long)

Postby PAWhippets » Tue Apr 06, 2010 12:15 am

I'm coming in late here but would agree with what's been said; it's overwhelming at first, maybe she will feel more comfortable the next time, or maybe a different type of therapy work would be better suited for her. My first Whippet enjoyed doing therapy visits as part of a group that visited at a hospital - we usually went to Rehab and Psych, sometimes other areas such as Peds and occasionally even the ER - but you can see that it can be draining for the dogs. Good luck!

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