Monday, February 15, 2010

Early days - My training as a therapy dog

My training as a therapy dog started at a very early age. Minal took me home when I was 3 months old and I was staying with her for my training as a ‘therapy dog’. When pups of my age are busy tearing paper, pooping in the house, chasing their tail, chewing on shoes, I was learning human emotions. I was learning to ‘communicate’ with Minal with the help of certain hand signals. She taught me how to greet new people, not by jumping but by going near them and waiting for them to pet me. I learned that children were eager to play with me but if I ran towards them out of excitement, they would get scared. I learned to be gentle around children. They would sometimes pull my tail or lift me ears or try to hold up my paw to ‘shake hands ‘. Minal taught me that this was not something that I should be scared of. The most difficult thing was to learn to wait till a teat was given to me by a child or till a child threw a ball at me. Children would just hold the treat above my head and dangle it. I would be so tempted to jump up and snatch it. But Minal would always remind me not to jump or else the children would get hurt or scared. My favorite toy was ball and children would try my patience while playing with it. They would not throw it soon enough, they would just hold it and pretend they were throwing. I would sometimes get frustrated and bark. Minal would again remind me that the children were only playing and that a bark would stop the play and drive the children away. It took me a while to learn that, but I enjoyed playing with these naughty children.

Training was fun. I used to get a lot of treats when I would get it right. Minal was very patient with me. She never got frustrated, even when I would get in a playful mood while training sessions and start biting her hand or jumping on her. She loved me like her own child. She brought me up in a way where I believed and learned that I was responsible, I could understand and communicate with humans, especially children who were not ‘normal’.

Of course, it all helped me later on when I worked with children who were ‘not normal’. They would take a long while to pick up the ball and throw it, they would sometimes just show me the treat and not give it, they would grab my tail or try and hug me tightly. At these time, the patience and understanding that I was taught paid off. I could actually understand the child and communicate with him.

The first time I worked as a therapy dog was for a child who would talk and chatter a lot, though none of it made any sense. He would not sit in one place for more than a minute while playing with me. He would not look at his mother or Minal or others like other ‘normal’ children did. His mother had told Minal that he was ‘hyperactive’. All I understood that this child needed to calm down a lot. His mother told that none of the friends of his age play with him because of his ‘weird’ behavior. He was very smart and intelligent but could not focus on what he was doing for along time. He would start shouting or speaking loudly all of a sudden and that would initially disturb me a bit. But Minal was always there to guide me on what to do.
She started with a simple activity of making the child sit near me, took his hands and made him pet me in long strokes. To me it felt good. I had by now learned to sit quietly when a child was made to sit near me. He would do it a few times and then get up again. Or grab my fur or pick up my tail or would want to play ball all of a sudden. Minal would again make him sit near me and pet me in strokes. He did like me a lot and was ready to do anything that was related to me. But he kept losing his focus. The big change came when Minal made him lie down on my belly. I was taught to be in sleep position and stay still while a child was made to lie on me. Initially I loved this activity only because I would get hugged and pampered my Minal and her friends. But that day I understood what it really did. When the child was made to sleep on me, he relaxed instantaneously and calmed down a lot. The same child who would scream, or talk loudly or would get up every minute, stayed with me for almost 20-25 min. Later on in the session he focused on whatever Minal asked him to do with me….like talk to me, feed me, play with me. It was the first time he interacted with me with out getting distracted. At the end of the session when he hugged me to say goodbye I really felt a connection with this child.

Visit our website to know more about me and my friends, and to know more about this “unique therapy”.

Aren’t I Lucky ..?

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