Disappointed in Therapy Animals Of Utah

PackWalkAs I mentioned earlier, I hosted a pack walk for my business. It was an awesome turnout! I met some of my clients and their dogs, as well as met a few new faces! I also met some people who aren’t my clients, but I know from our local pets page, and from our social class on Saturdays. Wasatch Canine Camp hosts this class, and many of these people are her clients. So, I tread lightly, as I don’t want to step on toes, or seem like I’m ‘poaching’.

Anyway, back to my pack walk. It was AWESOME!!! Total of 17 dogs came, and I arranged them according to how well they were behaving on the leash. I put the strong, well-leashed trained dogs in the front, and the excitable, un-leash trained dogs in the back. In the middle were all the dogs in between. I didn’t have to do much, as many of these dogs were behaving well on their own.

It was a success! By the end of the pack walk, 80% of the dogs were behaving well on the leash. There were a select few who will need some work, but that’s what this class is for!

The weather was beautiful, the people were awesome, and I successfully put my name out there again! I’m moving up in the world! Well… I like to think so…

Now, on Saturday, I attended an all-day workshop about therapy dogs. I went through a society called Therapy Animals Of Utah (TAU, formerly called the Delta society). The goal was to get handler certified, and then have you and your dog be certified as a full working, therapy team. Meaning my dog and I are never separated when we are helping patients. We are a team.

The course was from 9am – 5pm. I gave up my only day off to come to this course, so my dog and I could be certified as a therapy team. Since I have been studying canine psychology for the last year, I knew about 85% of what was taught, and had my own opinions about the training methods used, along with the equipment I was allowed to use. I disagreed with some of their methods, and also with the equipment they said was ‘inappropriate’. They didn’t want you even training with certain equipment, which I thought was silly.

For example, any type of chain was unacceptable along with eCollar training. I disagree with this. Now, I think the prong collar should not be used on every single dog, nor does every single dog need it, but I have used this tool in my training in the past. I prefer a head collar, like the Halti (but never Gentle Leader.. not impressed) and just like any tool – a trainer should help you learn how to use it correctly. Their reasoning behind not using prong collars, eCollars, or choke chains was that it could hurt the dog or a person. I was stunned.. such an uneducated way of saying this. Prong collars are a great tool if used correctly. Of course someone can get hurt if it used incorrectly on the dog. ANY TOOL can hurt a person or a dog if used incorrectly.

They wanted you to use a back-clip harness, flat collar and a leash combination, or a martingale collar. Yes, these are all great, but I still really prefer the head collar. They said you can use it, but it is often mistaken as a muzzle, so you will have to explain yourself all the time with this. No shit.

Obviously, I’m starting to get irritated now. It’s like they were treating me like I didn’t know anything. However, I took deep breaths, and realized that everyone there (except me) weren’t trainers, and didn’t study the different equipment, or psychology. So… I listened, and just said ‘ok.’ Every once in a while when I had an educated question like ‘Why don’t you allow front-clip harnesses? I ask because a back-clip harness is promoting the dog to pull, and that’s the opposite of what we want, right?’

TAU2Anyway, back to the course. Right before lunchtime, we were broken up into workshops, and I was stationed at the grooming section. We were discussing proper dental care, and I asked a question, “I take a more holistic approach in raising my animals, and I would rather not put my dog under for anesthesia for a dental cleaning ever 6 months. I have moved to a raw diet and I give marrow bones to keep teeth clean, and I believe it does a much better job. I also use a frankincense/oil blend to clean ears because I won’t use anything that isn’t organic on my dog.”  So, after I asked my educated question, and explained my reasoning, the instructor said, “Actually, a dog that eats raw cannot be certified as a therapy animal. The bacteria in the raw meat that may be left behind on the animal’s mouth, lips, paws, etc is a risk to people who have a weakened immune system. Like people who are pregnant, sick, cancer patients, infants, or elderly people.”

I was shocked… and my heart dropped, I could hardly speak. I was at a loss. I ended up saying how ridiculous I thought that was, and how if a 3 year old who was sick touched another person in the hospital, it was more dangerous than my dog getting someone sick with ‘raw meat residue’ on the mouth. Which, I might point out – with proper grooming techniques, especially within a hospital environment, is improbable.

So, I went back to my place at the table and sat down… by myself… and proceeded to tear up like a baby while lunch was getting ready. I have been preparing for 8 months for this course, and to be evaluated. Napoleon is ready. I have managed his adrenaline levels, and every aspect of the course, he would ace with flying colors. This one little thing – this thing I wasn’t aware of until now – has completely thrown me off, and we have been disqualified. I was so upset that no one told me. I was upset that it felt like I wasted my time on Saturday – my only day off. And didn’t learn hardly anything. I was upset that I have put 8 months worth of work into my dog to make him a therapy dog, and now, we can’t qualify.

So, I took a walk really quickly, and then came back, and attended the last ½ of the course. I realized I also disagreed with some of the training methods they were using the rest of the day. For example, the dog would show signs of stress management (lip licking, yawning, whale eyes, turning body or head away, furrowed brow, etc) and it was the trainer’s responsibility to ‘assure’ the dog by giving praise and positive reinforcement for this behavior to make the dog feel safe. In my opinion, by giving the dog positive reinforcement when it is stressed, you are reinforcing this behavior, thus I don’t agree.  The way I would handle this would be to get the dog out of the situation, and then introduce slower and keep the dog beneath the threshold entirely. As soon as you start seeing signs of coping (again the stress management), I would back off, and slow down. I would also keep sessions between 10-20 minutes, even if the session is going well. You want to end on a good note. The instructors here also didn’t believe this, and just want to ‘manage’ the stressors and see signs of when the dog is finally done (tail between legs, shaking, whining, etc). In my opinion (again), I wouldn’t let it get this far. At this point, you can no longer train, the dog has shut down. It’s too late to use this opportunity to learn, and you might have pushed the dog too far.  This creates a negative memory about therapy work, location, situation, smell, etc – whatever the ‘trigger’ maybe next time, and now you have to worry about ‘fixing’ it instead of ‘management’, which is a lot harder.

Overall, I disagree with the restriction on raw, and I disagree with the core training methods used with this organization, and it’s probably a good thing that we won’t quality. I will need to find another organization that I agree with the training methods, and can happily volunteer for. It is unfortunate I lost a whole day, but at the same time, I am so happy that I did because I know what to look for in other therapy organizations now.

I feel I have cleansed myself of that seething anger I felt initially, and replaced it with acceptance and peace. I’m ok.


By the way, you will be hearing less of me in the coming few weeks because I am studying my canine theriogeneology course, and I have enrolled in an obedience course with Napoleon. I need some time for me, and I won’t be on to update all the time, so when I do have time, my posts might be longer (like this one) than normal.

6 thoughts on “Disappointed in Therapy Animals Of Utah

  1. I’m sorry about how that went. I don’t know what I would do without my Holt head leader. Like you, I am unimpressed with the Gentle Leader. Ok. It looks like a muzzle, but it isn’t. Case closed.

    The raw food thing is asinine. Hospitals are teeming with drug resistant bacteria and staph. Food residue on a dog is the least of their worries. Have they considered the dirt residue on their feet? Oh shudder.

    My humane society does not recommend comforting a stressed dog because they believe it reinforces the stress. They say calm dogs should be rewarded. Stressed dogs should be removed from tough situations but not coddled.

    What a crazy program. They are losing a great team.

    • I know… I don’t want to work with them at all-I’m not impressed and very disappointed. I’m looking into other programs.

  2. I disagree with the raw assertion, that’s totally ridiculous. I completely agree with you that the raw diet and the marrow bones is WAY better than putting your dog under – and every six months?! First off, why is that necessary, second off – who can afford that?! It’s like $300 to get my dogs’ teeth cleaned, that’s a ridiculous expectation. I also agree with what you’re saying about getting dogs out of stressful situations. But I personally don’t believe a dog that is showing signs of stress in a workshop environment would really be a great therapy dog anyway. I don’t think many dogs are great therapy dogs, honestly. Just because your dog is friendly doesn’t mean the dog would be a great therapy dog. Neither of mine would, and I fully recognize that and don’t particularly worry about it, lol. I disagree though (sorry) with the prong collar/ecollar/choke chain. I don’t think these tools are necessary or should be used, especially in a therapy situation, because of the chance of redirected aggression, the same way that I believe they should not be used in herding training, which is my sport of choice. But that’s just my humble opinion.

    • Thank you for visiting, Crystal. 🙂 A ‘preventative care package’ for dental requires your dog’s teeth to go in to be cleaned every 6 months. I have animal health insurance, so this procedure is actually free for me, but at the same time, I take a holistic approach in my life, as well as for my animals’ health. So, I was quite astonished that I was the only one in the room who knew anything about raw. I was also upset that they wouldn’t have ‘exceptions’ where people who feed raw just can’t go into hospital environments. Put us into reading groups, library visits and schools, instead of in an environment where (as little as it may be) there is risk.

      I also agree with the qualifications for therapy dogs – the dog they used for the exam were not ideal. One dog was scared of being brushed and had his tail curled under himself. However, all dogs will show stress in situations they don’t like (hugs, for example. This is not something a dog really enjoys), but we want them to be able to handle these things, instead of shut down.

      As for your view on prong collars, I’m not the judging type, so no worries. I work with all kinds of trainers: Trainers who swear by them, trainers who won’t use them at all, and trainers like myself – I only use them with a more hard-headed dog who isn’t responding to head collars or martingale collars (I only have a few clients who absolutely need them) 😉 And in a therapy environment, I agree – these things are not ideal, and do not instill confidence in the patients you are seeing, even if your dog only has a slight pulling problem (which I wouldn’t recommend either one of these tools in that case). Prong/eCollars/chokes should all be used in TRAINING ONLY (not all the time, and NEVER in a situation where there could ever be a chance of redirection aggression), and in a therapy environment, your dog should be trained already and these tools are no longer necessary. However, the fact that they said these tools can hurt the dog/person was a little uneducated. If used correctly, you don’t train with pain at all. You train with stimulation and pressure, and if done correctly, you won’t need the collar for very long before you can move to either a flat collar/leash combo or a head collar. The 2 times I have used a choke/prong in my experience, the dog only needed it for about a month, and then we moved to a martingale because she was showing so much progress with learning how not to pull. The problem with these types of tools (in my opinion) is that owners purchase them without knowing how to use them, and then the dog gets hurt, they experience redirection aggression, or the person actually gets hurt from using the prong collar. Just my option, too. 🙂

      Anyway, I’m glad you could visit!

  3. I see what you meant in your comment about therapy dogs on my blog!

    I completely agree with you about the problems you had with their program. First of all, anyone who has done ANY research on stress in dogs knows that you DO NOT praise a dog who is stressing out–in reinforces the fact that the stress is acceptable and something that the handler “wants.” The therapy dog program that I trained under keeps their training visits at 15-20 minutes and pulls sooner if there are sustained low level stress signals from the dog.

    As someone who has a therapy dog who got overwhelmed and shut down while working, I can tell you you want to pull your dog WAY before it is showing the signs that they were saying should be pull signals. The signals my dog sent me were much more subtle than the ones they are mentioning–I thought W was doing a really great down stay until I went to move her and realized she had totally frozen. It took months to get her confidence back. It is on me as a handler that I wasn’t picking up on her more subtle signals (since this happened I have really educated myself on stress body language in dogs).

    Also, we just switched our two dogs to raw diet (I’m not a fan because I’m a bit squeamish *lol*). My husband did a lot of research before starting and one of my concerns that he addressed was the bacteria issue. Apparently dogs have something in their saliva that quickly breaks down and destroys the bacteria from raw food (unlike cats, whose mouths typically swarm with bacteria even while not on a raw diet). This alleviated one of my biggest concerns about switching to raw. Since he switched the dogs over, we’ve also noticed that they are much more playful and energetic, have smaller and less smelly poops, and our dog M (who was on a grain free kibble diet before for his allergies) is much less itchy and red around his feet and butt than he has ever been in the entire year we have had him. I tend to think that a healthy raw fed dog is going to be less of a health risk than an itchy, allergy-ridden dog on kibble. Here’s a link: http://rawfed.com/myths/zoonotic.html

    • I am actually familiar with rawfed.com, as well as other sites (including rawfeddogs.com or something like that) and did a ton of research. My dog will easily live to be 15-18 and hopefully to 20 because of feeding raw and adding supplements.

      I was appalled at what they were saying, and I’m glad I didn’t certify. I am shocked they are even a legitimate company. I’m still learning about behavior, and those were all signs I learned long before. They didn’t teach me if anything I didn’t know, and it was a complete waste of time. For the test, Napoleon would have passed everything. Which also tells me the test needs to change, Napoleon is an adrenaline junkie, and they didn’t account for excited behavior at all. Ugh… Frustrating

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