Becoming a visiting therapy pet: A great occupation for calm canines

Each morning, as Wylie dresses for work, Oriel looks on sadly. She stands by the door when Wylie and Deni leave, asking silently, “Can’t I go today?”

Just as adjusting to retirement is tough for some people, this retired service dog is sometimes at a loss for how to fill her days. She found work exhausting and was ready to retire. Still, she misses the routine and seems to feel the need for something to give shape to her days.

Oriel has taken up some hobbies in her retirement: She loves to join in a Frisbee or ball game and has a little workout routine where she tones her abs and works to maintain a flexible spine. She enjoys walking along the waterfront and the occasional outing to a restaurant or café. But, still, something is missing.

Like many dogs, Oriel needs a job.

Wylie has home security covered (when he’s here), and besides, since Oriel never barks, and greets every human with a wagging tail and a request for petting, protection doesn’t really seem to be her strong suit.

She’s in training now for work as the official paper-fetcher, and she’s taken over after-meals cleanup. Along with Jana, she’s been recruited to the toy-pickup patrol. She willingly pitches in by picking up the odd piece of paper or sock that falls to the floor as well.

It’s not enough.

Retired folks are often encouraged to volunteer in the community. Applying this advice to Oriel requires a human with some free time and a willingness to commit it to a worthy cause. Oriel’s sweet nature and love for all of humankind make her a perfect candidate for visiting a hospital or assisted living, maybe participating in a children’s reading program or visiting a veterans’ rehab facility.

As an experienced service dog trainer, I know what’s needed: a pet who makes therapeutic visits  has to be well-behaved and friendly. No problems there. She has to be pretty unflappable, not reacting to things like sirens, odd smells, crying children or any of a number of unforeseeable events that could startle a lesser dog in a hospital setting. She has to take sudden noises, falling objects, moving carts and wheelchairs in her stride. She has to like the attention of possibly several people at once. She has to be gentle. She also has to be willing to resist temptation in case food, or something that looks like food, falls onto the floor. She can’t get upset if someone pets her roughly or grabs her ear or tail. She must never growl or bare her teeth.

Oriel could pass these tests with flying colors. Her working days were great preparation for  a retirement stint as a visiting dog. How about your dog? With some training and work on manners, many dogs would be ideal volunteer “candy stripers.” There’s overwhelming evidence that visits do a world of good for patients in hospitals and residents of rehab and assisted living facilities. A well-kept secret is that the dogs and their handlers get a lot out of it as well!

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