Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Do All Therapy Dogs Like Other Dogs?

The letter below is one written to a client at the dog daycare and boarding facility where I am the Training and Behavior consultant.

The dog's owner was justifiably proud his dog had passed the TDI (Therapy Dog International) test.  This dog was a wonderful therapy dog and she and her owner brought a great deal of happiness to people in the community.  

However, like humans, dogs do not excel at everything.  His dog, though wonderful with humans, did not like other dogs.  He did give me a few clues.  He felt uneasy at the dog park, did not have play dates with other dogs, and did not feel his dog would share a toy.

The names have been changed .

Good therapy dogs need to be the kind of dogs who ADORE people, all people, and want nothing more than to connect with them. It is, after all, the emotional connection that is often the therapeutic part of AAA and AAT.  It seems to me that dogs sort into 4 categories: 1) adore people, care little for other dogs, 2) adore dogs, care little for unfamiliar people, 3) adore members of both species and are thrilled to meet new ones and 4) adore neither dogs or people, except maybe their owner. Needless to say, only categories 1 and 3 are good therapy prospects.
Patricia McConnell, PhD.  Author of The Other End of the Leash, one of the best dog book I have ever read.

April 8, 2014
Dear Mr. Smith,

It is never easy to write one of these notes telling someone their dog is not a good candidate for daycare, especially when that dog has accomplished as much as your dog has and been such an asset to the community. 

In part the decision to stop Sparky’s daycare evaluation immediately was partly dependent on her therapy dog status.  Sparky obviously loves people.  She is wiggly, kissy, and sweet.  She is a great ambassador for her breed.  All too often I have clients say, “My dog did this, because she is a rescue dog.”  How I wish I had Sparky in my back pocket let them see how wonderful rescue dogs are. 

Sparky, however, is one of the dogs that Patricia McConnell described above as dog #1.  She went into the back with me, saw a line of kenneled dogs, and jammed on the breaks.  I put her into a nearby suite with an opaque door and she was content.  

After about a half hour I went to evaluate her.  She was delighted to see me.  I let her roam about my evaluation yard, sniff, come to me for petting, and get comfortable with the environment.  Then I let in our first dog, a young female pittie with excellent manners and a sweet disposition, a lot like Sparky.  She approached Sparky quietly for a sniff and Sparky snarled and punched her in the neck.  The dog paused and tried again, for a soft gentle greeting and Sparky repeated her neck punch. 

I opened a crate and the other dog ran in and leaned against the back wall, avoiding eye contact with Sparky. 

Since you obviously have put a lot of care into your dog I am sure you know one bad experience can turn a great dog into a leash reactive dog.  No one with a therapy dog needs a leash reactive dog. 
Because of your excellent walking habits and care, Sparky is happy with other dogs when she is on leash. However she does not want to be approached.  I would not ruin this for the world and stopped the evaluation before she had a chance to become uneasy with other dogs. 

I hope you agree with my decision.  Our primary goal is to ensure all dogs in our care are safe and happy.
With this note is a very nice article by Robin Bennet called, “My Dog Got Kicked Out of Daycare Today”.  I hope it explains anything I might have failed to make clear.  

In the mean time, if you would like Sparky to come to us for day boarding she can be one of our non-daycare dogs.  She will have a nice place to rest, regular walks, and people to talk to and play with and, if you provide it, a lunch time snack.  We would love to have her here, she is a very sweet dog, just not a dog who wants to hang out with a lot of strange dogs.

I look forward to Therapy Dog International Visits with you, Sparky and my dog, Ella.  She will appreciate Sparky's polite demeanor and I am sure we will have a fine time.  I am very proud we passed the TDI test and can join you and your fellows.