Therapy Dog Drop-Outs (for now)

Remember when I said being a therapy dog team would be Grace’s decision? Well, we are not a therapy dog team and it was, indeed, Grace’s decision. To be completely honest, I think we would have passed the exam, but I pulled her from the class about half way through the course.

I want to be very clear that Teamworks Dog Training is great, and I recommend them to anyone looking for training for their pooch. The instructor of this class, Christie, is awesome as well. When Grace and I are ready to try again, we will go back to Teamworks.

Here’s the story.


Grace is typically calm around people, but very excitable around dogs. She can get absolutely distracted around dogs. She did okay in class as long as she was sitting on her mat. When we tried to demonstrate a couple of the basic commands like heel and leave it, all she wanted to do was bound toward the other dogs. She acted as though she had never been on a leash. As for “leave it,” I think she thought I was saying “eat it” because she tried with all her might to get at that treat.

Collar vs. Harness

Another obstacle was that she had to be leashed at her collar—harnesses are not allowed on therapy dogs. Did you know that? I did not. The leash-to-collar thing was new to us and proved to be problematic. From the get-go, Grace has worn an Easy Walk harness because it’s what I used with Phoebe and it’s what I automatically purchased when I adopted Grace. I didn’t realize Grace was a puller until I started walking her with a Martingale collar in class and she was walking me. Loose-leash anything went out the window.

Jumping and Barking

A very bad habit that cropped up was jumping on people. If your dog is a jumper, that’s your business and I don’t want to offend anyone, but a dog jumping on me is one of my pet peeves. Grace didn’t jump much in class, only out in public (of course), but the behavior coincided with her attending the class. She also started barking at other dogs while being walked. Again, new behavior outside of class but coinciding with the class.


The only thing different in Grace’s life since this less-than-mannerly behavior began was the class. As I said, Grace is usually quite calm. However, my home is calm. It’s just the two of us and I pretty much coo at her in a soft voice while we snuggle on the sofa every evening. Seriously, finding a sunny spot to lay in is a big activity at our place (and you can see I scouted ahead of her and put the blanket down).

Dog lying in sunny spot
Grace found a sunny spot to rest

In class, however, there was a lot of loud talking, sometimes shouting, people rushing toward the dogs–good simulations of the things one might encounter at an actual therapy dog session. So I have a couple of thoughts about that.

  1. Perhaps too much stimulation for Grace? Or at least too drastic a change from our daily life?
  2. All the commotion in class may have looked to Grace like an invitation to play (i.e. jump on people)? We play fetch at home, but I don’t shout and wave my arms around, it’s a very civilized fetch.
  3. And the most plausible of all—her handler (yours truly) maybe isn’t that great of a handler when it comes to therapy dog work. Good luck trying to train me!

I can’t get in Grace’s head; I can only make an educated guess based on the information I have. The bottom line is, my job as her Mum is to protect her. Something was obviously causing her to act out, and the only thing different in her life was the class, so I stopped. It’s been a couple of weeks since we became doggie drop-outs, and the jumping on people is getting a wee bit better. We are back to the Easy Walk harness and loose-leash walking has somewhat returned as well. She still barks at other dogs, so I may have to try a corrective action (can of rocks to shake loudly when she barks).

It breaks my heart, because until now all of her training has been done solely by positive reinforcement. I don’t know how else to stop the barking at other dogs than with a correction. You know the first time I shake that can I’m going to cry. And then probably apologize and give her a big hug. That’s probably not going to help, is it?

Have you had to retrain your dog at some point? Have you dealt with barking at other dogs? What training method did you use?


Grace Started Therapy Dog Class!

Therapy dog class has begun! I may have mentioned that I wanted to get Grace into a therapy dog class for so many reasons, a few being:

  • I think she would do well as a therapy dog with her calm personality and love of humans; how can I not share that?
  • It will be a great bonding experience for us; there is nothing like working as a team with your dog–it’s actually more like play
  • It is one avenue for me (and for Grace) to advocate for Grace’s breed, the American Staffordshire Terrier, which falls under the umbrella of pit bull

We are doing the Canines for Therapy course at Teamworks Dog Training and, well, we are rusty on our commands. Nothing that can’t be remedied with a little practice. Remember when I posted this pic over the summer showing how well Grace loose leash walks? Somehow, when we walk through the door to class her leash walking abilities are wiped clean from her big, velvety noggin. She acted like she had never been on a leash!

Grace the dog loose leash walking
She knows how to loose leash walk!

Teamworks is where Grace did her Canine Good Citizen training and we had such a good experience there, it was the first place I checked for a therapy dog class. Of course I’m the consummate proud momma and have to brag about my baby being called on in class to demonstrate something other than loose leash walking. Here,  trainer Christie Canfield is showing us how to do the safety triangle maneuver. If you and your dog are being rushed by people (or even a single person) and you need for them to slow down, this move keeps them at bay and provides your dog with a sense of security. Then you can ask the individuals to approach calmly to pet your dog.

Instructor and Grace the dog demonstrate safety triangle
Trainer Christie and Grace demonstrate the safety triangle

There are tons of things we need to learn over the next several weeks before we take the exam. But even if we pass and become a registered therapy team, this is all contingent upon whether Grace likes this kind of thing once we’re in the field. We could head off to a nursing home only to find that isn’t Grace’s kind of gig. If she turns tail and runs or buries her head in my tummy (like at the vet), that’s no fun for her or for the residents. Ultimately, it will be Grace’s decision.

I’ll keep you posted on how we do in school. The instructor says this class is 25% dog and 75% handler (we’re in trouble). Send us your good vibes and let’s hope I don’t get us put in doggie detention.

Have you all taken your dogs to any classes or had a trainer come to your home? Please share!