Dog Therapy

Cali, a golden retriever, sits surrounded by flowers

Cali’s a natural. She intuitively knows when people need a hug. She gives the best hugs, too.

Just this past week, she comforted a stressed-out friend, soberly inspected a neighbor’s injured leg and offered reassurance, and snuggled with another anxious friend.

That’s why I am hoping to get her registered as a Pet Partner. She loves meeting people and is so sweet with people who need the comfort of a dog to pet or hold. So, on Saturday, I volunteered to help out at the evaluations of three dogs who were becoming Pet Partners. I wanted to see what the test looks like (it has been several years since I last did one) and where we might need work. All three dogs, a miniature poodle, a medium-sized mix, and a young golden retriever, did very well.

I’m not sure we’ll pass, though. Cali knows what to do. She’s been through obedience classes and is generally a well-mannered dog. Until her newfound fascination with squirrels, I didn’t think she had an aggressive or predatory bone in her body.

But.

When Cali gets excited, she loses her mind. She gets excited when she knows she might get a treat from someone. I could make sure that no one ever gave her a treat on our Pet Partner visits, though that would be hard. Sometimes, though, she gets excited just because she thinks she gets to meet someone new. Since that is the whole point of Pet Partner visits, I am not sure what to do.

Just yesterday, we were heading out for a walk, and a neighbor, someone I hadn’t met, was approaching. Cali went nuts. Pulling, hard, wagging her whole body… it was all positive energy, but not at all appropriate for visits. Even if I carefully avoided visits where anyone might be frail or easily knocked over. And if she got this excited at the test, there’s no way we’d pass.

I’m going to sign us up for some classes where she’ll get some practice listening to me with a lot of distractions and paying attention even when interesting people and dogs are all around us. I’m working really hard on not letting her get treats or petting when she’s pulling. But the world doesn’t always cooperate. Like the time she pretty much had treats thrown at her, strewn in our path, as we walked through Ace to the dog-food aisle (last week). Or the people who assure me that “it’s all right” that she’s pulling as they lean down and pet her and oooh and ahhh over her — ignoring my pleas to wait until she sits. It is not all right!

It seems unfair that the only way to try to get her what she wants — chances to meet more people — is to deny her the chance to meet people. And that’s not even guaranteed to work. I’ll let you know how it goes. The next evaluations are in November. Cali will be 5(!!) in December. If that sweet 15-month-old golden could pass (he did, with flying colors) she should be able to pull it off!

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