Monday, September 9, 2013

My First Visit As A Therapy Dog in Training

     Hi, everyone! Hope everyone had a good weekend. :) On Friday, I went to my first retirement home visit! I did incredible and am now a Therapy Dog in Training. That's the gist of this post if you don't feel like sitting through Mom rambling on and on about exactly what I did and how I did it. If you want to hear all the details, see below!

     Dachshund Mommy: 

Therapy Dog in Training 

     Nola did incredible, as she said. She greatly surpassed my expectations! 
We went to a local retirement home, after calling ahead and making sure it was okay with the staff of course. For this first visit, I didn't have Nola interact with any residents yet, as this visit was strictly to get her acclimated to all the things she's not used to, like wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen equipment, elderly people, medical personnel and the like. I also wanted to see how her focus on me would be and work on some of her obedience cues in a very high distraction, stimulating (to a dog) environment. 
She met with the receptionist and got a quick pat by her, and after being shown around for a minute we were on our own. Nola was a bit distracted when we first walked in and were talking with the receptionist, but as soon as we left the lobby and started to walk where the residents were she instantly calmed down and focused on me, turning completely serious and focused on what we were doing. It was like a switch flipped! I swear she knew that this was a serious job she had, and she was determined to do it well.
We walked the first hallway, and Nola (totally without prompt) kept a loose heel at my side. We came to the large community room were a good deal of the residents were playing bingo. I considered taking Nola into the room and having her interact with the residents but quickly decided against it. I don't want to push her too fast or have her be overwhelmed; therapy work is something I really want to do with the Bean and I'm going to keep every interaction positive and not push her to do something before I feel she's ready. For this visit (and all that will follow) I brought crack value treats to reward and reinforce the behaviors I wanted.
Anyways, we stayed for a minute or two and watched the residents play bingo. Well, Nola and Sugar (who went with us) watched them play while I watched Nola. She was alert, curious and interested, but she kept herself aware of her surroundings and kept herself aware of me and my cues (not just verbal; if I move, Nola moves). 

     We moved on to the nurses' station where there was some medical equipment, a woman with a walker, and a nurse. I think that was the first time Nola has seen a walker at such close proximity, and I was a little nervous of what she'd do. "Would she bark?" I asked myself, "Will she be scared of it? Will it spook her?". Logically, I knew it probably wouldn't phase her in the least, but I was still worried. Totally unfounded worry, it turned out to be! Nola passed the walker with only a curious glance in it's direction. She stayed in her loose heel, and after glancing at the walker refocused back on me and where we were headed. 

     After passing all that, I stopped suddenly to see what Nola would do. I was curious as to whether or not she'd keep walking until she hit the end of her leash. Nope, she sure didn't! She stopped as soon as I did, and looked back at me in a "why are we stopping, momma?" way. She saw I wasn't going to keep going, so she sat down next to me. I immediately praised and treated her and continued to walk on. I stopped several more times, and each time I did she instantly sat beside me and waited for me to move on so we could continue. None of this was cued or prompted in anyway, which I'm really proud of.
Right after that little exercise, we encountered some movers and a dolly/roller type thing moving some things into one of the resident's little apartment. These movers were big guys, in heavy boots and walking and moving briskly. Once again, the roller thing wasn't something Nola is accustomed to seeing. We stopped a few feet from it to gauge Nola's response. She wasn't barking, growling, spooking or anything like that, but she was getting more...anxious (not scared or skittish, just uncertain of what to do) than I was liking, so we stepped into a little alcove and I did a quick game of LAT (if you don't know what LAT is, go here) with her until she was totally calm and focused again. This took maybe 30-45 seconds. Once she was good to go again we passed both the movers and roller thing without incident. 

     We continued to walk the halls, with Nola still in her loose heel. Occasionally I'd stop and have her sit, down, sit/stay, down/stay, and we did a lot of "watch me!" to keep building her focus and attention. We passed a few nurses and staff, and Nola only gave them minimal interest. I love this about her; she is friendly and calm without getting distracted by the presence of other people. 

     We were nearing the end of our visit and were starting to head back to the lobby when something happened I found interesting. The hallways of this retirement home have doors on both sides every 10ft or so, and we'd passed several doors that were open with people inside. Nola totally ignored this. But as we were leaving, we passed one open door with an older gentlemen inside sitting alone (from what I could tell). As I said, Nola was loosely heeling and there was no tension on the leash, so I didn't realize she'd stopped at the door until until I hit the end of the leash (6ft). I look back at her, and she's standing by the open door looking in at this man, tail wagging and trying to go see him. I couldn't see or smell any food. 
Nola is a dog who is extremely in tune with people's emotions, not just mine. I have never seen a dog so emotionally intelligent. When someone is upset, Nola knows it. She goes to them and, depending on how upset they are, will hop into their lap, nudge their hands, put her head on their shoulder, lick their face or act excited and try to get them to play with her. So I wonder if she sensed something with this man, and wanted to comfort him. Like I said, we'd passed many open doors with people behind them (and some with food smells emanating from them), and Nola completely ignored them. Which makes me seriously think she felt something was wrong with the man, and wanted to comfort him. Very, very interesting.
A lover

Not a fighter (unless you're a toy, small animal or Minion!)

    So if you've read through that novel, thank you! Nola did incredible, and we are going to pursue therapy work. We'll go in every week or so, doing a bit more each time, until I feel Nola is ready (that is, if she continues to do as well as she did and enjoys it) for the test. Then I'll have her tested and certified if she passes.

     Before Nola was fully mature (so until about 6 months ago), I never thought this was something she could do. Agility? Yes! Rally-O? Sure! But therapy work? Nope. How wrong I was! I'm so impressed with and so in love with the incredible dog she's turned into.

Sit/stay and "watch me"

Down/stay and "watch me"

Kisses and Tail Wags and Hugs,
Dachshund Nola and Dachshund Mommy



  1. GREAT JOB NOLA! We are so dang proud of you girlfriend!!

    You will find going to the nursing homes VERY reqarding. Just tell your Mommy to bring Kleenex bcuz we guarantee the tears will fall.

    You will find that you bring MANY smiles to the residents and that is worth a million dollars right there.

    Keep up the good work Nola!

    Lily Belle

  2. Oh Nola we are so proud of you and your proud!
    stella rose

  3. The hardest pawt fur ME(Frankie Furter) was to Watch OUT fur the walkers and canes and wheel chair wheels.. butt I caught on REALLY quickly... Mom actually let ME be in charge in those situations and that was IMPAWTANT... I needed to know when to move outta the way...without being told to do it... Just in case MOM was distracted.
    YOU did a grrrreat job Nola.

  4. Bravo to Nola! It was great that this was just an exercise for her, before she really gets started meeting all those new people...and for her to do SO WELL?!? Amazing! Keep up the great work. Therapy work is soooooo important!
    *high paw*

  5. I think that's awesome. Rest homes are such a great place to take dogs, most of the residents had dogs or pets in the past and miss them so much.

  6. Great job! Nola I think you're going to make a terrific therapy dog.

  7. How exciting. You must be very pleased with Nola's progress. Good luck with your thereapy training.
    Dip Bridge and Elliot x

  8. Exciting! As you know Kerri is a therapy dog and loves doing her visits. Also we have been away from blogville doing some real life family stuff for about 3 weeks and we wanted to say the whole family enjoyed the baby Nola pictures a few posts back.

  9. Our friend Millie, the dachshund, is a natural therapy dog. So we had no worries about Nola.

    XXXOOO Daisy, Bella & Roxy

  10. That is wonderful, and so very exciting. I am an RN, and we have therapy dogs for the hospital system I work for. I just love seeing them. They are not only beneficial for the patients, but for the staff as well. Congratulations to you and Nola!

  11. This is angel work you and Nola are doing. If I were in the nursing home, my favorite day would be "Nola coming to visit" day. Imagine how important that is. You two are awesome!

  12. What a wonderful post. Nola is a sweetie, and she's obviously a plain incredible dog!!! I didn't know that you could get permission to walk around a retirement home for training. That's a great idea!

    Shyla has actually met a woman with a walker at my PT place. She's fine with it (much to my surprise) except the one time when the walker kind of cornered her. Then, I had to ask the woman to back off because I was afraid that Shyla would become afraid (but she didn't!).

    Anyway, you and Nola are wonderful examples for all of us!

  13. Congratulations Nola. Awesome. Bet you put lots of smile son people's faces
    Benny & Lily

  14. Way to go Nola. We know you will make a great therapy pup someday.

    Millie & Walter

  15. Wow Nola! Sounds like you did a fantastic(!) job for your first time at the nursing home! I think you're going to have no problems passing your therapy dog test. Let us know how your next visit goes!

  16. Awesome job, Nola! And your mommy did great in training you to be the obedient and loving dog that you are now. It's always endearing to hear stories about the ease and happiness well-trained dogs bring to their owners. I bet your mommy is glad that you are the way you are. Congratulations on your teamwork!
    Tyesha @ Dog Training Now!


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