|Barked: Wed Sep 10, '08 8:20am PST |
|I completely agree with Bree. It's not the breed that determines whether a dog is likely to be a good therapy dog, rather it is the individual dog. In general, I do not feel that Shelties make good therapy dogs. They are often stand-offish, reserved around strangers, and too focused on their handlers to give the attention to others that is needed. But there are individuals within the breed (my Gio, for example) that don't follow those "rules" and make wonderful therapy dogs.
What makes all the difference in the world is the dog's natural ability to be tolerant, accepting, and "bombproof". If that natural ability isn't there, that dog is not going to excel at being a therapy dog. That ability is not reliably trainable, it is either present from birth or not at all. That is then coupled with solid training and socializing. You can take any dog and train it to be solid in obedience work, socialize it to not be reactive around other dogs or people. But that doesn't mean that that dog will be a good therapy dog. Any dog can be trained to tolerate external stimuli, but I personally don't feel comfortable relying on training alone to ensure that the dog behaves. When it comes to visits with elderly, frail, compromised, or young individuals, training is not enough. The natural propensity to react appropriately should dominate everything the dog does when in that situation.
As such, I am not a proponent of getting a dog for the purpose of becoming a therapy dog. I do not feel that there should be specific training towards being a therapy dog, and I do not feel that dog should be tested to be a therapy dog before the age of 2-3 years, minimum. Doing any of those things is essentially setting the dog up for failure.
What I would suggest, and I realize that this may not be a popular opinion but it is my opinion none the less, would be to get a dog because it fits your lifestyle and is what you want in a companion. Spend the first 3-4 years of the dogs life getting it involved in everything you can. Train it to play many roles, not just one. So enroll it in obedience or rally-o classes and take it to the level of competition. Train it in an active sport like agility, flyball, disc, dock diving, feild trials, herding, etc. and take it to the level of competition. Training AND competition together will mold the dog in such a way that is not obtainable with mere puppy classes and socialization exercises. Let the dog find its niche, take it to seminars or classes even if you have no intention of competing in that sport. Let the dog "try" many different activities for a couple of years, get a couple of titles on the dog. Then, when it is a middle aged dog, has grown a brain and is as confident as it will ever be ... test it for therapy dog work. If by that point in life, after experiencing all that it has experienced, it does not pass the therapy dog test, then it was just not meant to be a therapy dog. BUT you have all that other work that you have done previously that you can still enjoy with your dog.
Learning and activity need to be a life-long process for people and for dogs. So while your dog is young and active and crazy do fun, energetic, exciting activities with it. Then, when the dog is middle-aged or older and begins to slow down and can no longer keep up or enjoy the high energy games it played when it was younger, you can continue to teach it and give it a slower job that it can handle.
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