A while ago, I wrote about getting started with therapy dog training. I wanted to volunteer with Gabriel’s Angels, a nonprofit that connects therapy dog teams with child victims of domestic violence. Nala is great with kids and full of joy, so it seemed like she could easily become a therapy dog.
Months later, I’m putting the plan on hold.
We had made good progress. I bought the handler's manual and began studying. Our pre-evaluation went well; we just needed to get better at walking calmly on a leash. One of the things they look for is a good bond between the dog and handler, and my heart about burst with love when the evaluator marveled, “She’s just so into you!” From there, we practiced heel and got past a lot of the pulling. I was really excited to get evaluated and certified so we could share Nala’s love with kids who need it.
The problem, though, is that Nala just isn’t ready for it. She’s not quite three years old, and between the Boxer and Lab in her she still acts very much like a puppy. While it’s great for when the neighborhood kids chase her around, it’s not right for an indoor setting and teaching kids to be gentle. Every time I meet someone and find out that the dog sitting calmly beside them is a certified therapy dog, I can’t help but picture Nala with the same serenity – just in a few years.
I haven’t given up on the idea of Nala becoming a therapy dog. But I recognize the criteria for the job and respect that Nala is still very much a young dog. If she calms down in a few years, we’ll try it again. But if she doesn’t, that’s ok too. She shares her joy and love every day anyway.
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Photo credit: Velo Steve