I had wanted to get involved with pet therapy for a long time but worried that Sam just wouldn’t have the necessary ‘chops’ to do it. He was after all…well let’s just say…a little excitable and unfocused. Don’t get me wrong, he really is a sweetheart but he just can’t stay focused for any amount of time. It’s always, “ooh, a stroller…no wait, a butterfly!…ah, a nice shiny object…and on and on in the span of a couple nano seconds. What’s an upright supposed to do? Go find a trainer, that’s what you do.
And boy did I find a great one. We enrolled in a basic obedience class and I confess, when I read the syllabus (oh yeah, there was even a syllabus) I figured this guy had to be good. He was patient, kind and extremely knowledgeable and had an amazing record with really challenging dogs. He too thought Sam would be terrific with pet therapy saying ‘you can always train a dog to do something but you just can’t buy that kind of sweetness.’ I had a few doubts because nothing so far had made much of a difference in this wild child/pogo stick of a dog even though he was years past puppy-hood. Oh sure, he was adorably sweet, but just couldn’t seem to help himself whenever he saw anyone he recognized and that was everyone. He’d pull and pull and do everything possible to get to them, no matter who they were. We diligently went to all the classes, practiced every day and then test day arrived. I was nervous as hell, since the session before had been such a disaster. I had even thrown my hands up and shouted, “Habla Español because you sure as &#@% don’t seem to understand English, dude!” And while that cracked up the trainer, it did nothing to alleviate my fears that I had a retarded, un-trainable dog. But I’m here to tell you miracles do happen and not just to hockey teams. Not only did he pass, my little rock start actually excelled over all the other dogs. Color me proud. With a new sense of confidence, I enrolled in the AKC Canine Good Citizen class figuring Sam could use as much training as possible and it might look good on the resume if we were accepted into a pet therapy program. He did everything quite well until week 4 when we were told in order to ‘graduate,’ the dog would have to perform a trick, any trick, it didn’t matter. Egad, are you kidding me?! This dog doesn’t get fetching balls for crying out loud. He just looks at you and has this “hmm, why did you throw that over there” look on his face and usually just lays down. Oh crap, I began to think I was totally screwed. I mean, he won’t even shake paws. But then something clicked in my mind and I knew I’d have to work with what I had. Sam will lay his head in your lap or on your knee and just be sweet and adorable with his tail wagging furiously while looking up at you with those sweet amber eyes. If I could just figure out a way to teach him to associate that behavior with the command ‘snuggle” well maybe, just maybe, we might pass. After two weeks of gobs of practice, lo and behold he was doing it! Actually.doing.it. Who was this dog and what happened to that dim-witted goof-ball I knew and loved? We passed with flying colors and lots of aw’s from the class, received the Canine Good Citizen designation and then began the process of finding a program where he could make sick people feel just a little better for a few minutes.
Fortunately there’s a hospital near the ‘ranch’ and we went through the process of applying to their program (and it’s quite a process at that) and after a few months we joined the team of just over 50 dogs. While initially it was not my intention to do hospice care, Sam (yeah that goofy/ADD Sam) was a complete rock star at hospice! Who’d have thought? The patients and staff just love him. He is extremely patient and allows anyone to pet him. He’s super calm with both young and old and he can’t seem to get enough of them. Funny thing too, he knows exactly when we’re going to the hospital. As soon as I pull down his official bandana, he starts pogo-sticking around the house. Woo-hoo! And he’s super excited as soon as we arrive in the parking lot but has that “I’m ready to go to work” strut once he gets out of the car. Who’d have thought this attention-deficit fur baby could be so great at putting smiles on people’s faces?
Have you had success with a dog trainer? Was it worth it for you? Hey, if Sam can do it…well any dog can do it.