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. Participation in the AKC’s STAR Puppy program followed by Canine Good Citizen® certification is a great way for a dog to start, especially since the CGC® provides a foundation for many of the evaluating tests of the different approved organizations.
What makes testing for therapy work different is that it involves observation of both dog and handler working as a team and interacting with others. When testing, evaluators not only assess whether the dog is sociable but also assess whether the owner handles her dog in a way that minimizes risk and whether she is able to “control” the visit and interact appropriately in a therapy scenario.
When introducing dogs to the various pieces of medical equipment in a training setting, care should be taken to keep things positive. Some trainers will lure their dog to approach the strange item—whether a wheelchair, walker, four-footed cane, or a pair of crutches—and then positively reinforce with a click and treat. The goal is to build confidence around these items so that the dog is relaxed and can do the job he was meant to do.
Also advisable is to ensure the dog has a firm grasp of the “leave it” command. This can be a lifesaver, since pills and other undesirable foreign objects may be present 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.
— Dorice Stancher, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America, May 2014 AKC Gazette
Read more from the AKC Gazette here.