I have a great respect for all of the teachers I have been working with who are determined to have their dog become a Certified Therapy Dog so they may take the dog to school with them.
I have had wonderful support from principals and school board members who feel that anytime is a good time for a therapy dog, but particularly now with so much turmoil and uncertainty. I have been working with them diligently whenever I can, knowing that their schedules are packed with various activities.
I commonly have people say their main goal of therapy dog certification is to take their dogs to retirement homes and hospitals. I realize the seniors are very pleased to have visitors to talk to and touch. Hospitals can’t deny the healing help a therapy dog offers. Even touching is a therapy that many who are bedridden look forward to.
I have learned that people of all ages, kids and adults alike, need those therapy dogs too, to aid in distraction of their
condition, give hope for tomorrow, offer a touch that calms or a cuddle that warms the heart.
When I am training dogs to be service animals, I frequently walk through the school grounds. Living near two schools, I have always seen the need for therapy dogs for kids. I will see a student or maybe two, that are very quiet and off by themselves. I do not approach them, but stand back and ask them if they need a puppy hug.
With COVID, this practice has been reduced a lot, and most of the kids I talk to are not in school at the time. I tell them that if they promise to make the puppy sit, and not let it run around or jump in their lap, they can pet the pup. I receive beautiful smiles and an instant reply that they promise to make the pup be polite. They are helping me train the pup, and the pup is willingly giving them a smile.
Sometimes kids are a forgotten commodity for dealing with loneliness, fear and anxiety, and they should not be. I always mention to every person who has their dog certified to please not forget the kids, schools and various events held just for kids. They need hugs too.
I find the most difficult challenge is training the teacher, more so than the dog. I realize there are many things the dog needs to know, and manners that must become a habit. Teachers have a habit of treating their dog like a student, but that should not be the case. A dog needs structure, a student needs room for creativity and expansion. A dog would like you to take command and please tell them what to do, a child is constantly striving for independence.
This makes the job a little more challenging for me. I am teaching a teacher. Not always are they ready to take the back seat, and are too accustomed to guiding others. But, after a bit of an education, the teachers understand and do just fine changing their teaching methods with their canine friend.
They have become great advocates for the therapy dog and the children.
I am glad to know that even today, teachers are always ready and willing to learn more.
Cheri Kolstad is a certified dog behaviourist, dog groomer and trainer who lives in Penticton. Email: email@example.com