The entrance exam provides clarity
The VTHS regularly conducts entrance exams to ensure the limited spaces available in therapy dog courses are filled with suitable teams.
Which prerequisites should the dog fulfill?
The dog should be able to walk with its owner on a loose leash without pulling, and should be able to walk on the right or left side of the owner. The leashed dog should also walk willingly with a stranger.
The leashed dog should be able to walk through a group of moving leashed dogs in close quarters without growling, barking, or acting aggressively.
The dog should remain calm (sit or down) when meeting another team while the two owners shake hands and chat for a few moments.
The dog should happily tolerate being touched everywhere, including mouth handling.
The dog should not show signs of anxiety or panic when confronted with sudden loud noises (for example dropped objects). However, a momentary startle, short bark, or jumping up are acceptable.
The dog should show only a mild reaction to a person raising a crutch or stick. Aggressive or protective reactions are undesirable.
The owner should be able to freely play with the dog, with or without a toy, and then have the dog sit calmly when requested.
The leashed dog should be able to walk alongside a shopping cart, stroller, or similar object.
The dog should be able to stay in a sit or down position for a few minutes while the owner is approximately 10 meters away.
During the course there is one written exam, and at the end of the course there are two concurrent final exams - a "basic" and an "ability" test.
The basic test is comprised of five exercises which ascertain the dog's basic obedience, ability to concentrate, as well as correct behavior with strangers and other dogs. The ability tests ascertain if the dog is reliable, controllable, and attached to people.
Eighty percent of the written (theory) test questions must be answered correctly for a passing grade.
Team trainers shoulder sizable responsibility
Team trainers have a significant responsibility - owner and dog should coalesce to form a team with a deep understanding of one another. The behavior of the dog must be continually and correctly interpreted so the owner can react in an appropriate and humane fashion. The dog must become accustomed to a wide range of novel situations, and the owner should learn to interpret subtitle signals, read the body language of those visited, respect the desire for more space or closeness, be able to engage in empathetic conversation, demonstrate patience, and share laughter or grief.
With the team trainer's help, the owner learns to trust the dog and realize when to let the dog take initiative. Dogs posses a remarkable ability to interpret subtle signs, as well as to feel the inner workings of those visited, and to react appropriately. Finding a suitable workplace is essential for the success of the team, and another area where the team trainer's guidance comes into play. Currently there are 37 team trainers and 21 judges (as of February 2017).