In order to become a Hos-Pets therapy dog, at minimum the dog with owner has to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test, given by an evaluator certified with the AKC.
After passing the test, the dog and owner must each attend their respective orientations with Hospice Care of the Lowcountry.
First, the dog must have the right temperament, meaning the dog has to desire attention from strangers without being ill behaved. Sitting for petting is critical, as is not jumping on people or licking excessively. Dogs that are shy with strangers need not apply.
The test consists of obedience and behavior skills. The owner walks the dog and stops to engage a person in conversation. The dog is to ignore the person.
The person might be allergic or not dog friendly, and the owner should have complete control of their dog.
The next exercise is the same, except the person asks to pet the dog. The dog should be in a Sit-Stay by the owner's side and accept petting on head and body by the stranger.
Obedience skills required include Sit, Lie Down and Stay on command, handing the leash to the evaluator and the owner walking away and then returning to the dog, with the dog remaining in position.
The Come command has the evaluator holding the leash and distracting the dog. The owner calls the dog to Come, and the dog comes straight to the owner without stopping.
Also required of the dog is walking on a loose leash by the owner's side, with the dog stopping, sitting, changing directions by making left and right turns and U-turns in both directions.
This indicates the dog is truly paying attention.
Another exercise includes walking around distractions such as carts, walkers or wheelchairs. The dog must be able to go up to people using this type of equipment without showing fear, so that people using medical equipment are able to pet the dog.
Another distraction that must be overcome is loud noises. The dog must show no fear. When a metal bowl or something loud and startling is dropped, the dog can't pull or try to get away from it.
Overreacting to a noisy situation would be dangerous to the owner and other people, so calmness is required.
Hos-Pets dogs have to be comfortable with people other than their owners brushing them, touching them and examining their body, ears and paws. Their nails should be trimmed and rounded so they don't scratch people.
The hardest challenges are passing by a person with another dog and your dog ignoring them, and supervised separation where your dog is left with someone while you disappear for three minutes.
The ignoring of the other dog is very difficult. For dogs that are very attached to their owners, being left after you disappear can be stressful.
CGC is looking for dogs that are comfortable in both situations, once again taking their cues from their owners.
If your dog can be trained to do these things or you want to take the CGC test, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. email@example.com