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Setting Myself up for Failure?

February 9, 2012

Since the day Cooper first came into my life, I quietly imagined that he would one day grow up to be a service dog.

Well, not really a “service” dog. After all, I don’t need a dog that will turn on lights for me or run to a neighbor if I fall and can’t get up or drag my cane to my wheelchair (no, I don’t need a cane — and won’t for many years despite my “advanced” age).

Really, I imagined he would grow up to become a therapy dog. One who visits hospitals and nursing homes and spreads happiness to those who need it most.

But, as with most things related to Cooper, there’s a bit of a problem. While not an absolute prerequisite, many therapy dog programs require participants to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. The 10-step tests ensures that your dog is properly trained, behaved and under control.

As I’ve said before, Cooper has certain issues that lead me to believe he won’t pass the test. It’s even well-known by my trainer, which is why I was more than a little surprised when she emailed to say that she thought he would be perfect for the next CGC training set to start in March.

When I stopped by Petco for some pet supplies, I ran into her and found that she believed he could pass everything on the test. The only outstanding issue to resolve, in her opinion, was his over-exuberant greeting of other dogs. She thought this would pair well with the other dog that would join the class — a big lab with a tendency to be over-exuberant with people.

So, when I came home, I decided I should look up the test. You know, to freak myself out even more.

Among the test requirements:

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger — The dog must sit and wait while a stranger greets the handler. (I guess that means no jumping up on the stranger to say, “Hey! Look at me!”)
  2. Sitting politely for petting — Again, no jumping when petted. (Hmmm … this could be a problem …)
  3. Appearance and grooming — Dog must allow the evaluator to inspect the dog, lift its feet and brush it. (I’m assuming this means that the dog can’t immediately run around the room and spin in joy after the brushing part …)
  4. Loose leash walking — Dog must respond to a handler’s movements, turning right, left and stopping along the way. (As long as there’s no distractions and I burn off enough of his copious energy ahead of time, he should be fine with this.)
  5. Walking through a crowd — Dog must be able to walk around and pass close to at least three people without getting over-exuberant. (Ummm … yeah … that could be a problem. See above.)
  6. Sit and down on command and staying in place — Exactly as it sounds. (No issues here.)
  7. Coming when called — Another exactly as it sounds. (Again, no issues here.)
  8. Reaction to another dog — Dog must behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries — all while the dogs show no more than casual interest in each other. The dogs can’t approach each other or the other handler. (Big problem here. A barking, growling, lunging problem.)
  9. Reaction to distraction — Evaluator presents two distractions, which could include dropping a chair, having a jogger run in front of the dog or rolling a crate dolly past the dog. Dog can appear slightly startled, but should not panic. (I wonder if “slightly startled” includes jumping back and barking like mad?)
  10. Supervised separation — Owner hands the leash to a “trusted person” and walks away for three minutes. Dog must be calm as the owner is out of sight. (This really isn’t an issue. Cooper pretty much latches onto anyone, as long as it’s not me.)

Oh, and of course, there is the special caveat: If the dog eliminates at anytime during the test (except if outside for the 10th test), dog and owner are immediately disqualified. This generally isn’t an issue for Cooper, but knowing my dog, he’d decide this was the perfect opportunity to show everyone just how much he can poop at one time.

After going through the list, I came very close to telling the trainer that we couldn’t do it. That it wasn’t the right time. That it may never be the right time. That I was pursuing this more for me than for him, and that wasn’t a good enough reason to put both of us through the pain.

But then I took Cooper for a long walk.

After following a long path through a local park for about 45 minutes, we ran into an older gentleman strolling with his walker. I ordered Cooper to sit so the man could pass without being jumped on. As the man was about to pass us, he stopped and reached down with his hand. I let Cooper walk over to him, half afraid he’d jump up on the man. But instead of acting crazed, he just stood and happily let the frail man pet him. Cooper then gently leaned into the man’s leg, showing him a little affection in return.

It was then that I knew: Deep down in this little, spazzy, freaky pup beats the heart of a therapy dog. And completing this class and test will be just as important for him as it is for me.

So we’re jumping in with both feet — or all four paws, as it were.

From → Animals, Cooper

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