So You Want to Have a Therapy Dog

Surprise! Another blog post about Ollie! But don’t tell him, we don’t need the fame and glory getting to his head. Since debuting my therapy dog experiences, I’ve received many questions on how we got to the point of Ollie being a successful, working boy. I’m going to take you back to the beginning and walk you through the decisions that were made to ensure we would get to where we are today. In doing so, I will also debut some puppy photos of Ollie; you’re welcome.

1. Do Your Research

 

If you have looked into buying a pre-trained therapy or service dog, then you know that it costs a pretty penny. And by a pretty penny, I mean several thousands of them. While this route will ensure that your dog is without a doubt amazing at what it does, it isn’t the most affordable or timely option. Personally, I was fresh out of college and still considering Ramen Noodles to be a delicacy, so option A was not for me. I found Ollie through a local breeder and crossed my fingers that he would be the right fit! 

 

Once I knew I was going to be bringing home a Goldendoodle puppy in a few months, I began to research training facilities within my area. Comparing prices, guarantees, training techniques, all the things. I called my top contenders to ask about whether they have trained dogs to pass the therapy test. Doing this made me feel confident in the training facility that I knew I would send Ollie to. I was about to book in advance and Ollie was set to go to a two week long board and train program when he was 5 months old. 

2. Day One Decisions

 

Even though I knew that Ollie was going to a professional trainer once he was 5 months old, I still knew that I had to do my part before that time came. I became a crazy dog lady before Ollie was even physically mine! I listened to podcasts, read blogs and articles about training puppies, and most of all, I watched Youtube videos. My personal favorite, Zak George, gave me so many useful tips and tricks for starting off strong with a puppy; and for free!

 

Just like with our students, consistency is key. I knew how important those beginning weeks were and I wanted to create expectations for Ollie immediately. I crate trained Ollie, even though I wanted to snuggle 24/7. I loaded him up with positive reinforcement and focused on teaching replacement behaviors for the things I didn’t like (sound familiar?). I even signed us up for a puppy training class at PetSmart, which I highly recommend. It was a great opportunity for Ollie and I to bond, and for him to focus on me in a distracting environment. He graduated top of his class!

3. Socialization is Key 

 

This one may seem obvious, but is a huge piece to Ollie’s success as a therapy dog. My first night with Ollie, we ate Tacos on my favorite restaurant’s patio. I let everyone pet him. We ended the night with a beverage at our local watering hole, where I again let everyone pet him. I was aware of not overwhelming him, but I truly believe exposing him to all types of people from the get-go has allowed him to be such a trusting and love-able dog. Any time we walked by kids on the sidewalk, or I had the opportunity to be around my nieces and nephews, I made sure to introduce Ollie. I knew that his future life would revolve around being with small humans, so amping up the interaction with children was a big one. 

 

My last beginners tip that I will leave you with is to invade your puppies personal space. Get all up in their ears, mouth, tail, paws. Make them used to invasive interactions; not only will this help with vet visits, but it will help immensely when you have 5-year olds who are working on personal space meeting your dog for the first time. Ollie isn’t phased by anything, he’s almost a little too chill!

Reagan Strange, MSEd
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