Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Breed Column, August Gazette
How to Get Your Wheaten Into Therapy

By Dorice Stancher

On June 27, 2011 the American Kennel Club made history again by recognizing the contributions of therapy dogs and creating the AKC Therapy Dog™ title. Therapy dog certification organizations have been credited with advancing the work of visiting dogs and are experts in the field. They screen volunteers, provide educational material, arrange visits, and provide liability insurance and guidance for those interested in this selfless act of kindness.

According to the AKC website, in order to be eligible to receive this award they must be certified/registered by an AKC recognized therapy dog organization, perform at least 50 visits, and registered or listed with the AKC. This can be done through the AKC registration number for purebreds, like our Wheaten Terriers. There is also the Purebred Alternative Listing or PAL program and the AKC Canine Partners Program. Visits are documented using the AKC form which is downloadable from the website, through verification from a recognized organization by wallet card, or a letter from the facility (details and an example are on the website).

Wheaten Terriers have a penchant for making friends wherever they go and it should come as no surprise that they excel at therapy work provided they receive obedience training and have the right temperament. The AKC Star Puppy program and later the Canine Good Citizen® or CGC are great places to start especially since the latter is a foundation for many of the evaluating tests of the different approved organizations. What makes therapy work testing different is the observation of both dog and handler, working as a team and interacting with others. When testing, evaluators look to see not only if the dog is sociable, but also to see if the owner handles their dog in a way that minimizes risk, if they are able to "control" the visit, and interact appropriately with those they visit.

When introducing dogs to the various pieces of medical equipment in a training setting, care should be taken to keep things positive. Trainers will often lure dogs to approach the strange item, whether it be a wheelchair, walker, four-footed cane, or crutches, then click and treat. The goal is to build confidence around these items so that the dog is relaxed and can do the job it was meant to do. Also a firm grasp of the "leave it" command can be a lifesaver since pills and other foreign objects may appear on a hospital or nursing home floor.

While it takes time to train and certify a dog for this work, it is well worth the effort to see the smiles on the faces of those you meet. There is nothing quite like it.