Baker takes the therapy dog test

Learning hand signals

Years ago, I had a dear friend who was hospitalized with terminal cancer. She loved dogs, and her final weeks were brightened by visits from a troupe of golden retriever therapy dogs. Louise’s face lit up with a smile as she described their visits, and often led to reminiscing about her childhood pal, a German Shepherd, whom she was confident she would see again on the other side.  Since then, it’s been a dream of mine to become a pet therapy volunteer. But none of my dogs have had the temperament or obedience skills for therapy work, or they were too old and infirm. When I adopted Baker, a six year old Welsh Springer, I was hopeful he was “the one.” He is friendly and confident, if a bit too exuberant at times. To ensure that a strong bond has formed, Baker must have lived with me for at least six months prior to taking the therapy dog test, so we have spent that time working hard on his obedience skills and visiting lots of different public venues to test his reactions to strangers, clumsy petting, distractions, and other surprises he might encounter in therapy work.

Practicing "leave it!"

We spent several sessions with a wonderful trainer, Heather (pictured here), working on different elements of the therapy dog test. Finally, on July 24, the big day came! I was very nervous, and it was hot inside the gym, which wasn’t air-conditioned. I had brought plenty of water for Baker, and hoped he wouldn’t mistake the gym floor for the doggie daycare place and take a pee (which would have disqualified us on the spot). The gym doors were open for circulation, and to my horror I spotted some birds and squirrels in the trees outside which would be major distractions to Baker. As we were the first to arrive, I took the liberty of closing the doors on that side, and all was well.

We were the second team to be tested that day, after a darling Sheltie who pranced through the exercises flawlessly. Then Baker and I took the floor, and other than being a little hesitant on his down/stay (which we had not practiced as much), he performed perfectly! Putting him in a sit/stay, and walking out to the end of a 15-ft lead with Baker holding the stay for 30 seconds seemed like the longest 30 seconds of my life! You could have heard a pin drop in that gym as the observers watched, but I felt everyone was rooting for Baker. A few minutes later Baker gently accepted a treat from the evaluator’s hand and we were told we had passed. I was so proud of my boy! We are looking forward to beginning this new adventure together. Stay tuned!

"That was hard, but I passed!"

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