2003 Articles

Delta Society Pet Partners Training

by Michelle Edmondson

Zephyr was a 6 year old male Sam with a past full of blind alleys. First he was to be a show dog, but refused to raise the 2nd ear. Next he was neutered due to an optic nerve coloboma. While excelling at doing very precisely anything asked of him, he had to bow out of agility after completing all the pre-trial classes due to a torn ligament in his right pastern. This made the jumping potentially injurious for him. He passed the Canine Good Citizen test with flying colors (the second time, after the Old English in heat was removed from the area!). But what to do with that? He passed his Herding Instinct Testing but didn’t live anywhere near any sheep. Another show dog came into the home, was finished, had a litter and they finished too….Meanwhile, Zephyr sang woo-woo’s, delighted to do tricks for folks when asked, and wondered what was his special purpose. He withdrew and waited, sometimes a bit grumpily, for his turn to shine.

Willow was a cute-ti-ful 3 year old Sammie girl who didn’t quite make it as breeding stock. Possessed of a playful spirit, she proved to be a good auntie to her house-mates’ pups. She learned quickly and just as quickly became bored with obedience (except for the food). Always interested in people and other critters, she perfected her cuddling skills, practiced kisses on the home crew, and distinguished herself in agility for creative acts like combining the jump and tunnel commands into a jump-on-tunnel exercise which was quickly taken up by all the other dogs in the class. Nonetheless, it just wasn’t people oriented enough for her, so she wondered when she would find her niche and waited, sighing dramatically.

With a growing number of Sams in the household, mom was always working hard to figure out how to do a special one-on-one activity with Zeph and Willow. One day she read the Woo-Woo Review and discovered the Delta Society Pet Partners Program. By either a video plus correspondence course, or by attending a short series of weekly classes over a couple of months, she learned that a short stint of effort could qualify both of them as a team of Certified Pet Partners. Could this be the solution?

A Delta Society Pet Partner must pass an evaluation based upon the Canine Good Citizen test, but modified for work in institutional settings. (“I could be very good at that”, said Zeph.) The ‘work’ is mostly visiting with people who are staying in some sort of institution, temporarily or permanently. They could be in a nursing home or a hospital for rehab or treatment, in a long term care setting due to age or loss of spouse, in a prison, or simply at a school assembly.(“Think of all the people who could pet me there!”, said Willow.)

Mom contacted the Delta Society via their website (www.deltasociety.org), but you can call at 425-226-7357, and locate a training/evaluation series nearby. A call or an email, a check in the mail, a few brush-up obedience classes, and Viola! We were groomed, outfitted in smart therapy-dog-in-training vests, and helping mom learn what to do and not to do in visiting folks with us.(Do bring lots of treats for them to give us, don’t let us too close to their stuffy collections! And don’t forget to wear your badge and sign in and out.)

Mom chose a course to gain experience prior to taking on an independent visitation schedule at an institution. The classes were in a Health Care Center once a week, and we went visiting together one other day a week for half an hour or an hour, followed by writing up notes on the visits and who was visited and how we did. It was worth it, as everyone who took the course passed their evaluations, while many who just studied at home and showed up to take the test found it too strange and didn’t pass the first time.

The skills of dog and handler are tested as a team in a series of exercise lasting collectively no longer than half an hour. An evaluator is assisted by role playing ‘patients’ and a neutral dog, who may try to distract, overwhelm or startle the dog while they are being tested. A dog who is steady and a handler who can anticipate their dog’s reactions and manage them through it all will pass.

The classes cover health issues and manners, accident procedures, handling skills, situations that may arise, and how to contact, evaluate, set up and maintain your own visiting program. The test also determines aptitude, which helps for choosing the latter.

How did we do? Willow proved to be better at quick visits in large groups, tender kisses and patience during long conversations with lonely or reminiscing residents. She had as a special visit pal a lady with Alzheimer’s who never remembered her from week to week, but was always delighted to meet her and warmed to telling her about her own past pets. Willow passed just one point short of a complex rating, so she can take mom into Predictable settings, such as adult wards, care homes and public demonstration booths. Zephyr passed with the higher rating of Complex. He had excelled at doing tricks for folks visiting in the home, making residents laugh, encouraging a depressed lady to get dressed and out of bed and walking her to her hair appointment with her walker, and in helping folks to be as good a trooper as he is taking his heart meds. He proved to be steady no matter what crowds, clumsy petting, arguing folks, noises or distractions came his way. He is qualified to visit in Complex settings such as mental hospitals, children’s wards or schools, and prisons.

After passing the test, Willow and Zeph had to surrender their training vests, and mom had to send off a photo for a badge for each team, a set of completed forms, a small fee, a health check from the vet, and an order for a Real Vest! In the fall, once our badges (good for two years) and vests arrive, we will be insured for up to a million dollars liability in any institution mom arranges for us to visit.

Hey, its fun training, its great to be the star of a different kind of show, we’re making a real contribution to the well-being of others as true working dogs, we can work toward a Therapy Dog Certificate if we want, and we are great ambassadors for the Great Samoyed Breed!

Sign us – No longer waiting for our special purpose – Willow and Zephyr at Luminous