Carolyn Christman and Happy, a 3 year old English Shepherd, work with a Physical Therapist and a PT student at an elementary school near their home in Mebane, NC.
Carolyn writes: “I had known about therapy animal work for a long time, but I didn’t see an opportunity to become involved until we got Happy. She showed us her aptitude at the local dog park when – instead of running and playing with the other dogs – she would visit with the dog owners, going from person to person and greeting them with lots of eye contact and, sometimes, with nuzzling and leaning. So I took a course about therapy animals and then, when Happy was 18 months old, passed a Delta Society test. Happy has now worked as a therapy dog with a physical therapist in an elementary school and in a nursing home. At the school, she works an obstacle course with one of the students; at the nursing home, she visits with the residents and reminds them of their much-loved dogs, cats, and other animals.
“One of my friends works with an Australian Shepherd, and we have commented that the herding dogs are very engaged with one person at a time. This engagement and eye contact is a real strength, though it also means that they may get overwhelmed with too many people at once, so that small groups or one-on-one situations are best. These dogs like the routine of knowing their job and who they will be working with.
“I am still a novice handling Happy but have learned a great deal about dog behavior, cues, needs, and interests through this project. Plus, Happy has had an opportunity to gain confidence and experience through her therapy animal work. ”
“Together, we do an obstacle course of small jumps, weave poles, cones to mark running distances, a hula hoop, and a teeter totter. We also do recalls and other running games, such as pretending to be dogs herding sheep. Working with Happy and other therapy dogs motivates this student to do the course with more energy, speed, and strength. It also gives him the chance to work on dog handling skills, including verbal and non-verbal communication, hand-eye coordination, precision, and patience. He is doing a great job!