Day 45 of 365
Here's how the story begins: (start here if you are new)
River's wags of wisdom for today: "Anxiety, Schmang-ziety."
Yesterday I was talking about our testing to get River certified to become a Delta Therapy Dog. I also mentioned that she and I both went through many, many weeks of training and that much of that was visiting grocery stores, malls, and places she was unfamiliar with so she would become desensitized.
Some visits were better than others. Then I found a place where we could practice on an elevator. You'd be amazed at how dogs need a bit of help stepping onto one and then lots of support once you're in motion. We went up and down, on and off. Lots of treats.
Instead of the actual test site being where River was taking classes, Delta Society held it at the Charlottesville SPCA. (We sent them a letter recently about our visit there.) On the day of testing, I took River for a run to wear her out. This was key. Then when we got to the testing site, I let River smell all around to get her sniffer acquainted. Since there are so many dogs there, she was going a bit ballistic...the hardest part she had in training was "Passing another dog - Greeting a person with a handshake." Most dogs have trouble with this. This is the piece where most dogs fail because, of course, they want to engage and sniff butts. In training and in therapy situations, you have to be able to control your dog when another dog comes around. If you can't or the dog goes nuts, then, you fail. Easy as 1-2-3.
During the test, I did not breathe. I anchored River and listened to "Greta" Van "Doubtsund," the feared tester, tell me each piece of the test and then what she was going to watch for. My heart raced. You could re-try, if I remember correctly, only one time if you did not do well on a particular task.
We made it through the following while I held my breath:
1. Sit and stay
2. Sit and stay with leash down and the handler backing away from dog...
(we had to do this one over because I called River to me too quickly)
3. Loose leash walking from one mark to another with a tight turn
4. Leave it...there was a small stuffed dog we had to walk by
5. Then the Convergence where staffers run/walk toward River and try and touch her all over. The tester pulls her tail to see how she reacts
6. Handicapped equipment is used to distract the dog...and people try to take her leash from you (you must say nicely but firmly, "No.")
7. The "bang" of something behind her and then she's supposed to recover quickly from the noise...if a dog gets overly nervous...FAIL
8. Pass that other dog...meet and greet...shake hands
9. A few more I can't remember...
About half way into the test, her collar came off with the leash attached. At this point, I thought we'd failed because the tester marked it down on her clipboard. I almost cried.
My trainer told me to breathe. I did.
When we finished the test, Greta Van Doubtsund went over to score both River and me. It took nearly fifteen minutes as she marked her papers, made notes, and kanoodled over that collar coming off. In the meantime, River and I waited with our friends from class. They all seemed sure I'd passed but I couldn't get a read on Greta.
Finally, she came over and shook my hand and said that we had passed.
I thought I would faint.
When I called my mom a few minutes later to tell her that I now had a certified therapy dog. She screamed an allelulia and told me she'd been at mass praying for River and me that morning.
River passed her test on a Sunday morning in early August of 2007. We hooted and hollered and I took her for an ice cream.
I was elated. Greta had written on the test sheet, "handler was very nervous."
But, River wasn't. Good girl. Touche my sweet doggie.
Our first gig was an elementary school in Henrico County....more tomorrow.
Today, we are going to repost that picture of her eating that ice cream.
Love to you,
Ruth and River
For more on Piper's Someday, please go to http://www.ruthperkinson.net/ or to http://www.bellabooks.com/