We are excited to announce our decision to add a therapy dog to our practice! We adopted a puppy, Cloe, in November, and will start training her to be a therapy dog, hopefully transitioning her into the practice in late 2019 or early 2020. We are so excited for this opportunity and want to keep you in the loop in our journey. We'll be posting some blogs about the process of raising and training a puppy into a therapy dog, and sharing our successes and challenges along the way.
Once we'd decided that this was a direction we wanted to take, we started gathering information about the process as a whole, which starts with choosing a puppy or an older dog. We chose to train a puppy because it's more reliable than behavior of an older or adopted dog, though training these dogs is certainly possible. For example, the celebrity dog trainer and star of the show Lucky Dog, Brandon McMillan has built a career on training shelter dogs to work in movies (check out his book "Lucky Dog Lessons: Train Your Dog in 7 Days"). However, a therapy dog needs to have a certain temperament and be non-reactive, which is more difficult to predict with an older, adopted dog whose history is unknown. And seeing as I'm a working parent and small business owner and not a professional animal trainer, we decided not to make things more difficult on ourselves. A puppy it was.
As part of our research we also talked with our vet. We wanted to ensure that it was safe to bring a puppy into the house with an aging dog (our black lab, Layla, is 12). We got the green light and a recommendation to use a breeder in lieu of a shelter adoption since our therapy dog will have a very specific purpose. This was new for us, as we adopted Layla from the shelter in Columbus. Our vet actually cautioned about the possibility of a failing experience with a shelter dog whereby we then would not have a therapy dog, and certainly see dogs abandonned for this reason.
Our research on breeders led us to an out of town Ohio breeder of Golden Retrievers, whose parents are show dogs with excellent breeding for poise and temperament. We chose this breed for several reasons. First, we're comfortable and familiar with big dogs, and have enough space for a large dog to exercise at our house. More importantly, Golden Retrievers have a calm, gentle temperament and they are highly trainable. Originally trained as hunting dogs for waterfowl, they love to please, which makes work training more efficient and potentially more effective than training time with other breeds. In fact, labs and golden retrievers are #2 and #3 on the list of best therapy dogs for anxiety (https://www.k9ofmine.com/best-dogs-for-anxiety/), including the following general character traits: they are friendly, outgoing, calm, affectionate, confident, loving, and loyal. Since my practice specializes in anxiety disorders, we prioritized a breed that has a calming and gentle affect.
We brought the kids to research the breeder and take a look at the puppies. Boy, they sure are cute at 8 weeks! They looked huge with the kids holding them, but they were actually much smaller than the photos make them appear, and very tame and calm. There were several puppies available in the litter, and all looked similar, we kept asking, "Which one is this?" Luckily they were microchipped for identification (and veterinary) purposes. Thank goodness because it was impossible to tell them apart. The breeders gave us some pointers for choosing a pup with great temperament, which was basically all of them. I'd already had a list from the vet on choosing a breeder that included things like reputation, dog genetics, exposure to children and socialization prior to 8 weeks. However, making a choice between 7 or 8 adorable, snuggly puppies who looked (and acted) EXACTLY THE SAME turned out to be really difficult. Eventually, we chose just one puppy to become our therapy dog, which was gruelingly difficult but necessary if we didn't want to leave with 8 new puppies and have dad move out.
Just kidding about that part. Maybe. And now we have CLOE 🎉! She's a soft, sweet, curious little puppy. The name, including spelling, was given by our 7-year old on the ride home, during which time Cloe slept as she does whenever inside a moving car. (Turns out, it's like a tranquilizer.) Interestingly, I didn't find out until later that the meaning of her name, typically spelled Chloe but with several variations (Kloe, Cloe, Chloie, Khloe) means "blooming" and refers to a young, green plant shoot. I actually love the blooming reference; this is what we do when we come to therapy, right? We find the right conditions to bloom, grow, more fully realize our potential and strength. I'm hoping Cloe will live up to this expectation (In the interest of honesty, Chloe also means "fertility" but we're choosing to ignore that part 😳).
Puppies are so cute, and a lot of work. This means accidents on our floors (all the rugs are rolled up now), being curious and interested in everything; eating things like socks, chewing on the table, chairs, cabinetry, woodwork, firewood, trees, plant stems, everything not nailed down and many things that are, and getting up every 2 hours through the night to go potty. I'd forgotten how demanding puppies are at this stage, flashing me back to caring for our infant babies and trying to get through the day on 4.5 hours of broken sleep and copious amounts of caffeine. I think they can only hold their bladders for 5 minutes until they're a year old (I wasn't prepared to be so exhausted, so sorry to all the clients who had to endure my dysregulation November-January 🙃). We've also added several gates, crates, and training mats to help buffer the less pleasant aspects of having a puppy in the house. And I modified my work schedule so I can come home and get her outside, even do a bit of training on my lunch break, which (praying to the Gods) helps her sleep through the night.
But she's also fun, adorable, and entertaining: when the dogs play, Cloe uses her currently small size as an advantage, sliding and hiding under couches, chairs, and human legs to bark and strategize her next move. She'll grab a bone, growl her cute little puppy growl at Layla, then run and hide in safety and drive Layla bonkers. She bounces and hops like puppies tend to do when they play; she absolutely loves leaves, and we have plenty of them around here. She likes to sleep on her back with arms and legs splayed, dead to the world with a big smile on her face. The little puppy groans and sighs in her sleep are simply adorable.
She's even super clever and quickly figures out how to outsmart us. She might jump up and put her paws on the counter, and when we correct her and she complies, we'll give her a treat as soon as her little butt hits the floor. Immediately she's jumping up with one paw so she can swiftly sit on the floor for her treat.
What we didn't expect is how well Layla responds Cloe. After 12 years as a single dog, Layla was immediately excited to have a playmate and chases balls, plays tug of war, wrestles and barks with Cloe. Layla will try to rouse Cloe from one of her 87 daily naps with a rope or ball, tail wagging, eagerly wanting Cloe to wake and rumble. She seems like she's been waiting to have a friend her whole life, and doesn't seem to be jealous in the least.
Cloe is acclimating to our human life pretty well so far. Layla and the kids certainly love her, and we're getting used to keeping a quick eye on this little one. Step 1: Success! (so far at least; I'm literally knocking on wood right now). Training has already started... more about that next time :)
Kate Adkins, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and professional counselor, owner of a private practice in central Ohio. She specializes in anxiety disorders including trauma and eating disorders, and couples therapy. She also teaches at the collegiate level, currently working with doctoral interns at The University of Akron. Kate's personal life includes a husband, two children, and now two dogs, and in her spare time loves dog training, reading, and naps.