Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Writing, Tomatoes, and How I Trained My Puppy to be a Therapy Dog

This summer has flown by, but it's not to say that it hasn't been productive. Here are some highlights from my summer:

Loki Is Officially A Therapy Dog! Before I even adopted my pug, Loki, I knew that I wanted him to be a therapy dog. I got the idea from visiting my grandparents in their assisted living facility. They had a resident parrot in the lobby that everyone went crazy over, and when my mom would bring her little black pug named Bosco, the response was even more overwhelming. Whenever we would visit my grandparents, the residents would inquire about Bosco, and it was evident that he was the highlight of their week. It makes sense. Whenever I see an animal it instantly brightens my day. Seriously, if I'm writing at my desk and look out the window and see a chipmunk hopping through the grass I can't help but smile. On particularly crappy days, I'll look at cute animal videos or pics on YouTube or Pinterest and all of my worries seem to instantly vanish. Anyway, I started hearing about "therapy dogs" on the news that were visiting people in need, especially after a major disaster or incident like Sandy Hook. These therapy dogs give so much to so many in times of need and I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of. If you're interested in learning more, or getting your dog certified, here's how I did it:

-   Therapy dogs have to be one-year-old to take the official test and I adopted Loki when he was 9 weeks old. It was highly recommended that Loki participate in puppy training prior so that he could get used to other dogs, people, and scenarios, so I enrolled him in puppy school when he was 3 months old at my local pet supply store.

Say cheese! You graduated from kindergarten.
 -   After he completed six weeks of puppy school, which taught him the basics like how to sit, stay, and walk properly on a leash, I enrolled him in six weeks of puppy kindergarten. These scenarios were a little more advanced like coming when called, venturing through tunnels, etc.

-   Next was the Canine Good Citizen class for another six weeks. A lot of the scenarios in class were similar and/or actual components found on the Therapy Dog International (T.D.I) test like leaving your dog with someone else for a full minute without them freaking out or being aggressive, coming when called on a twenty-foot leash, etc. When Loki passed, I sent in his paperwork and he got a certificate and ribbon. You can learn more about the purpose and qualifications for the Canine Good Citizen here.

Here we are doing a test simulation.

-   I enrolled Loki in a T.D.I. class to train on specific things that he would be tested on. The class was six weeks long. I trained with Loki every day at home, and as he mastered more scenarios, I would continue to do the same training in different locations like in the backyard, upstairs, in the park, etc. Sometimes the teacher allowed us to do simulations outside as well (as pictured above). His biggest problem areas were pulling on his leash and jumping on people. During one of the test simulations in class, Loki also tried to pee on an orange cone and I quickly found out that peeing on anything during the test is an automatic fail. Yikes!

-   It was time to take the test! About 12 dogs showed up, comprised of people from the training class, as well as any community members who wanted to test their dog. The process was a little overwhelming I have to admit. There was one evaluator who had brought several volunteers and she decided to hold the test outdoors. Good thing I practiced outside! Test scenarios ranged from having to walk your dog around a wheelchair, a flashing light, a kid playing with a streamer, and someone on crutches without the dog freaking out, being aggressive, or pulling, to someone in a wheelchair offering your dog food and he has to 'leave it' at your command. The thing I was worried about most was Loki jumping up on people since he's so small and gets very excited around new people. During the test he did jump a little bit, but I was able to call him down so that the volunteers could pet him as he sat. I was also worried about him peeing on a cone again, so I probably took him for 3-4 potty breaks during the test. The whole testing process took about 2 hours. It was a huge relief when he passed! You can view all of the testing requirements here.

Isn't this the cutest patch ever?
 -   After Loki passed his test, I had to work through a big stack of paperwork. First, I had to have his vet sign it saying that he was up-to-date on all of his vaccines and submit proof, then I had to fill out general info about the Loki. I mailed in the paperwork with the fee, as well as a picture of Loki. He'll be receiving a special bandana with a T.D.I patch, and I'll soon be getting my special laminated badge that I'll be required to wear on visits as well. Once we receive our identification, we'll be visiting low-income assisted living facilities as well as children's hospitals in the area. I'm really looking forward to it!

Everything I did took a year to complete, but Loki is an unusual scenario. Some of the dogs in our T.D.I class were older and had regularly been exposed to kids and hospital scenarios since their owners worked there, so not all had gone through the recommended training. Some of these dogs tested well, but some didn't. This was primarily with dogs that had been adopted later in life so it was difficult to break them of bad habits. I really think that all of the training that Loki had from an early age helped the process, which is one of the reasons I decided to adopt a puppy in the first place.

This WAS NOT an easy process. It's up to the owner to pass just as much as it is the dog since the dog is obeying your commands and following your lead. It was extremely difficult to train a puppy and some days were very discouraging. I was very nervous on the day of the T.D.I test and worried that he wouldn't pass after all of the hard work and time I had put in to get him certified. No matter how hard you train, there's always the 'what if' factor since dogs can be unpredictable.

Hello, friend! I'm here to cheer you up. :D
I'm truly honored to be a member of T.D.I. I've learned a great deal during this process, especially all of the different ways that therapy dogs can help others. For example, I just learned about a new program where therapy dogs are used to calm down children in a courtroom if they need to testify. There are funeral home/bereavement dogs. There are even therapy dogs brought to colleges during the week of finals. Wherever Loki goes I'm confident that this little face will bring cheer to people who need it most.

In other news...

I Started My First Real Garden: I'm talking a real bonafide garden in the ground and everything! I've always had potted plants indoors, and maybe a few here and there outside, but nothing actually in the ground, so this is a big deal for me. I planted onions, four different kinds of tomatoes, cilantro, jalapenos, anaheim peppers, basil, and bell peppers. So far, I've harvested tons of cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and basil, and the others are still coming in.

There's something so incredibly rewarding about eating food you've grown! My hope is that I'll be able to can jars of pesto and salsa before the winter. Yum!

Aren't they purty?

In Writing News: Yesterday I got two awesome reviews of The Nightmare Birds. They seriously made my day! :D


Here's a snip-bit of what the talented author J.D. Estrada had to say:

"Dark, mysterious, ethereal...A worthy follow-up if there was one, it raises countless questions... but one floats above the rest.... when will we see more?" You can read his full review here.

Book blogger Linz the Bookworm had this to say: 

"The most important thing I can stress about Nightmare Birds is how incredibly creative it is." You can read her full review here.

In other writing news, I'm taking a much-needed break until the end of the month. Then, I'll start working on Book III in the Strange Luck Series. Whoohoo!!! :)

That's it for now...