Milton the pug, jumped into Rita’s lap as she sat in her wheelchair, looked up at her beseechingly and gave her a lick.
“His eyes really draw you in. That’s good for a therapy dog, but you might want to bring a towel,” said Joanie King, leader of a weekend program designed to help dog owners decide if their furry friends could comfort patients, or confirm they are model citizens.
Dogs and their people lined up at Ramada 5 in Rumsey Park on a recent Saturday morning to gain certification as Canine Good Citizens (CGC) and/or as therapy dogs with Therapy Dogs International (TDI).
King, wearing two certification IDs, one from TDI and the other from the American Kennel Club’s CGC program, ran the dogs and their humans through a series of exercises to determine eligibility.
“This test is to see whether your dog can get along with other people and dogs,” said King.
An owner with a chocolate Lab and a member of the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue with their dog Ringo, faced off on opposite corners, walked toward one another, stopped and told both dogs to sit and stay. The chocolate Lab got antsy when his companion turned away to shake hands.
“I’m looking to see if your dogs will calmly wait while you meet other people. CGC dogs have to listen to their owners,” said King.
The owner of the chocolate Lab asked to try the exercise again. This time, his dog listened looking only with curiosity at Milton sitting across from him.
“Good. You gained control,” said King.
The assessment for TDI certification requires more rigorous drills.
“The perfect therapy dog looks up at a person with big gentle eyes. No pawing is allowed since people often have thin skin. Their demeanor must be calm inspiring comfort. They must not be jumpy around mobility equipment,” said King.
Ringo walked up to the wheelchair and didn’t paw or play, but neither did he look up with warm and fuzzy eyes either. Actually, Ringo showed little interest in the whole process.
“I’m not sure he’d be the best therapy dog. He’s probably better at his tracking job,” said King.
After a few more drills, King brought the group over to the picnic tables to fill out paperwork. There she either gave the dogs and their companions good news, or let them down gently, telling some owners they needed a bit more training before passing the CGC.
In order to pass, dogs had to:
• Accept a friendly stranger
• Sit politely for petting
• Have a good appearance and grooming
• Behave well on a short walk
• Walk through a crowd
• Sit on command and stay in place
• Come when called
• Exhibit a calm reaction when presented with another dog
• Be calm around distractions
• Remain calm when separated from their human
If dogs needed more training, King introduced owners to Lori Chandler, a local dog trainer in Payson who referred most of the participants to the day’s certification program. Chandler either has one-on-one dog training or holds monthly classes. Chandler has a Web site with a contact form at: http://leaderofthepackcorp.com. Her motto is: fulfillment for dogs — sanity for humans.
Along with training information, King introduced all of the owners to the Canine Good Citizen owner’s commitment to responsible dog ownership.
“If everyone who owned a dog followed these guidelines, we’d have a lot less dogs being given away,” said King to the group.
The list reads:
• I will be responsible for my dog’s health needs;
• I will be responsible for my dog’s safety;
• I will not allow my dog to infringe on the rights of others, and;
• I will be responsible for my dog’s quality of life.
King plans on holding more CGC and TDI certification programs. She asked that interested people contact her through Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org.