Considering Therapy Dog Work for your Pup? Here's our Therapy Dog Origin Story...

I've never been a dog person. Not exactly the first thought you were thinking you'd read, right?

Growing up, my mom's allergies were pretty severe, so our pets were Patty Bird the parakeet, fish, hamsters, and guinea pigs. In my twenties and thirties, dogs just always seemed so time consuming and needy.

Matthew and Whiskey our Labradoodle neighbor in San Francisco

Matthew and Whiskey our Labradoodle neighbor in San Francisco

I never thought I would adopt a dog. Never!

And then Matthew started pining for a pup; his heart set on a yellow Labrador retriever. Thankfully, our neighbors in San Francisco adopted an apricot Labradoodle who was just the happiest little guy.

We'd see Whiskey in the elevator or hallway pretty consistently. Soon Whiskey was a regular imaginary visitor to our apartment.

When we moved back to Tucson, we started researching Doodles and various breeders...with Whiskey's guidance, of course.

During that year-long process, my attitude about adopting a puppy completely shifted. You would not believe how many Doodle videos I watched on YouTube!

I just knew that I was going to love being a dog mom. When we picked up Bernie, he was the most adorable little happy Doodle. All three of us quickly bonded.

Bernie McSquare as a pup lounging on some grass in the summer of 2016.

In the late summer/early fall of 2016, we enrolled Bernie in an 8-week Puppy Obedience Class with Crystal Blaker of Ruff House Dog Training & Behavior Modification. Our little guy has a super excitable Doodle temperament; he wants to meet every dog and every person! We had our work cut out for us.

But did we pick the right trainer for us!

During the first class, Crystal shared details of her various experiences with dogs and trainings she's received. She also talked about the various activities that dogs can participate in like tricks, agility competitions, and therapy work.

Prior to adopting Bernie, I had never considered what we might do with him besides love him as a family pet. I knew we'd be taking walks and I loved that idea. I find walks incredibly therapeutic. But I had never considered what other activities he might want to participate in because they bring him joy.

Bernie McSquare's graduation certificate from Ruff House's 8-week Puppy Obedience Course

Crystal got Matthew and me thinking about how as a Doodle family we could have fun together.

But first, the work.

We graduated from Puppy Obedience Class, but decided not to try for certification in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program.

We thought some of the test items like calmly walking by other people and dogs would be too difficult for our exuberant pup. We didn't want to put too much pressure on him or on us.

Instead, we decided to set our obedience aim a little farther out.

During classes, Crystal also shared stories about therapy dog visits she and two of her pups would make. Hearing her talk about the hospital patients who benefited from interacting with her dogs inspired both Matthew and me. We started considering whether or not Bernie would like therapy dog work and if he would be good at it.

We got our answer last Christmas Eve. Since we were all restless, we decided to pop over to La Encantada around mid-morning. While Matthew bought some Christmas goodies in AJ's Fine Foods, Bernie and I explored the mall. We frequently visit La Encantada, so we're both used to dog-friendly people there wanting to meet Bernie. But on that Christmas Eve trip, we could barely walk.

Wave after wave of people came over asking if they could pet the little guy. Shockingly to me, Bernie sat still and let all of these strangers pet him. He was smiling, wagging his tail, and loving the attention. (Seriously, you'd think we never play with him or love on him at home!)

And we're talking many different kinds of people. Different ages, ranging from senior citizens to some elementary school children. Different genders. Different ethnicities. Bernie loved them all!

At one point, we were completely surrounded by people wanting to pet Bernie or ask me questions about him. I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic, but not the Bernster. He just reveled in meeting everyone. On a day when people were frantically trying to put together last minute details, I could see on their faces, how much joy our little guy was bringing to them. They were relaxing and just enjoying his sweet personality.

And that's when I knew that not only would Bernie excel at being a therapy dog, he would love doing the work.

Thinking about therapy dog work for your pup? Here's what inspired us to begin training for certification.

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