Can This "Terrorist" Be a Therapy Dog?


Milo contemplates his future as a therapy dog.

Barb loves dogs. And as an Occupational Therapist, she loves treating her patients. So is it any surprise that she has always wanted to have a therapy dog? No, not the ones wearing the vests that wind up in front of you on your trans-oceanic flight, those are service dogs. Her ambition is to have a dog she can take to hospitals, therapy centers, nursing homes or schools, to provide comfort and a more tranquil environment for those in need.

She tried it first with our previous dog Max, the gentle giant. In his puppyhood, we took him for an evaluation and were discouraged to learn the odds were stacked against his having the demeanor and learning the skills that would be needed in a therapy setting. Barb was crushed at that failure, but we had many happy years with our lovable Mini Irish Wolfhound.

Milo our pomeranian-rat terrier rescue dog joined us in November, and Barb has been committed to the challenge of creating the first Raff Animal Therapist (R.A.T.)  We began with basic obedience training in group lessons at a training center not far from home.  And what a group it was. Some big, some little, some furry, some hairless, some friendly, some not-so. And the dogs were a mixed bag as well!

We were led by four different instructors who tried hard but weren’t always on the same page. Milo at times appeared confused, as did Barb and I, but the pup passed his “Good Citizen” test on his first attempt. Unfortunately, his coterie of instructors wasn’t quite as impressed as we were and recommended that we reregister him in the basic course, which of course we did. “He is a terrier, or as I like to call them, a terrorist,” one of them repeatedly told us. “Smart, but with a mind of his own. He can do it, but this will take time!”

This past spring Milo finally took a leap forward and matriculated into a class preparing show dogs for their time in the ring. We have no idea why this was recommended to us, as Milo will never be on the contest circuit. Have you seen the movie “Best in Show”? After a few weeks of this training, I can tell you it only begins to scratch the surface of what that show world must be like.

Speaking of movies, do you remember Alex Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross”? His motto: ABC–always be closing. Our instructors have that down pat, as they have sold us four leashes and three collars. But they have been generous with their treats, for which Milo is eternally grateful.

So where are we now? Milo just began a class to prep him for the entrance exam into Therapy Training. It’s like taking a Kaplan course for the LSAT, only the stakes here are  higher.  Will he make the cut and become a rat terrorist R.A.T? It is too soon to tell, but Barb and I have agreed, this will be our last attempt. If we can’t teach a dog to do therapy, I’ll just train our next one in pathology. And does anyone need a leash?

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