Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why Ranger and I Are a Therapy Dog Team

Ranger has had a busy time lately. Wednesday he was at school with me helping kids learn about dogs, Saturday he joined other Therapy Dog International dogs at a local nursing home, and the following Wednesday he listened to kids read at the library.

At school Ranger got to show the kids that he listens and obeys better if you speak to him gently rather than shouting at him. He showed them why you don't stare at dogs and how dogs don't really like hugs. Ranger and I have a very good relationship and I take a calculated risk and loom over him staring at him or throwing my arms around his neck and hugging tight. It's hard to miss how he backs away and looks uncomfortable when I loom and stare (although to be honest by now he's been through this demonstration so many times that he doesn't react very strongly) or how his happy smile disappears when I hug him tightly.

Ranger makes me laugh, all 15 kids in the class petting him at once is just what he likes. I keep a close eye out for any kid that isn't treating him appropriately or any sign of stress on his part but I almost never have to intervene. After my Dig those Dogs class Ranger usually waits through my next class in the back of the car but Wednesday was warm and sunny, too hot to leave him in the car so he got to stay for my second class. After all the kids petted him I handed his leash to the TA who'd come in just for that purpose and set about testing another one of those projects you can find on the internet. It turns out you really can dye fabric with sharpie pens and rubbing alcohol. While most of the class continued adding designs to the dishtowels I'd brought for dyeing one student asked if he could pet Ranger instead. As he put it "I have sharpies, towels and rubbing alcohol at home, I don't have a dog." He spent half the class petting Ranger and I noticed that one by one other students finished their designs and came to love on Ranger until probably half the class was petting him. As the kids were heading out for pick up by their parents the one that had first asked if he could pet Ranger told me that he'd been having a lousy day, and that he'd been kind of stressed out but after petting Ranger he was feeling calm and relaxed. That's why we do what we do.

At the nursing home Ranger interacted with a lot of people and made them feel good but two women stand out. One was slumped in her big walking frame and completely disengaged from everything. I asked if she liked dogs and took her vague noise as a yes. Ranger walked up beside her and she continued to slump there doing nothing. Thinking she might be blind I told her that if she'd slide her hand to the side it would land on Ranger's head. She complied, letting her hand flop onto Ranger, after a couple minutes her hand began to move in his fur and she straightened slightly. When Ranger indicated that it was time to move on one of the other dogs in our group took his place. By the fourth dog the woman was sitting up straight and smiling.

The other woman was sitting in a chair when I asked if she'd like to pet Ranger she indicated that she could hardly move the hand on the side nearest him but that she'd like to pet him. I asked him to move closer to the chair and she reached across her body with her other hand to pet him. After a bit another dog came to take Ranger's place and we moved on to someone else. When I glanced back I saw her reach out with her bad arm to pet the dog. In petting the dogs she'd forgotten that one arm was damaged and was so engaged that she used that arm to pet. That's why we do what we do!

At the Library Ranger listens to reluctant and hesitant readers. I love it when they're reading a book with a strong rhythmic component. Ranger will often huff along with the beat or echo it. The kids get the biggest kick out of Ranger reading with them. At the end of their session the child has enjoyed a very positive experience with a book and a big dog. That's why we do what we do.

I know I used this same photo recently but it captures things so well. Ranger is a Therapy Dog.


  1. When you and Ranger are teaching children how to approach and how not to approach and handle him, even though he knows you are not threatening him, does he know that he needs to act unhappy, to teach the children?

  2. It's an automatic reflex. His reaction to being loomed over is a lot like ours would be if we knew the person was just going to pretend they were going to hit us, we'd still flinch and pull back but it would be with less urgency. Our thinking brain says nothing is going to happen we don't need to worry about it but our lizard brain still sees the fist coming at us and says get out of the way. Does that make sense?