Petey is just four pounds and very very small. But he is a powerful therapy dog because he can do some things even a fifteen pound dog cannot.
When I first met Petey I was concerned that he would be too small for this kind of work. The techniques for handling a tiny dog are very different and challenging to protect his safety at all times. We work with people who may be unsteady, have little or no control of their movements, have uncontrolled actions or not comprehend that he is so small.
When taking the Pet Partner Evaluation, very small dogs under fifteen pounds can be carried through many of the exercises. However all dogs must show they can walk calmly on a loose leash and go into the down position.
I taught Petey to always face forward when sitting or lying down on a lap, mine or someone else’s. This means he can be looking at me so I can protect his head and also have people easily pet him on his back or belly. This prevents people from kissing him or reaching for his malformed mouth.
But it is a great technique for all small dogs and it is one of the first things w3e teach the tiny ones, how to position themselves on a lap or bed next to someone.
Petey also knows exactly where his blanket is and always goes right to it.
The tiny dogs can be positioned into the smallest of spaces next to an arm or body or the crook of a neck if that is the only place someone can feel them.
One of the most important skills the small dogs can have, and Petey excels at, is being cradled belly side up. He just loves nothing more than being wrapped in his blanket and being held like a baby. We use this position to play Hide and Seek whereby he is covered with the blanket and when his name is called, pops out from beneath the covering.
And recently we found out how incredibly helpful this position could be as a very young child needed to have blood drawn and she wanted no part of it. She screamed and kicked and tried so very hard to break away from her mom who was holding her on her lap.
With a doctor and a nurse positioned very close, they could not get her to calm down enough to be still.
I was seated on a stool to the left of the child and it was her right arm they were trying to draw blood from. I wrapped up Petey and held him so close to her left cheek so she could feel him and see him by turning towards that direction. She had met Petey before when she arrived for this appointment, played with him in the playroom outside the exam room and really enjoyed him. She was fascinated by his being held like a baby.
But now she was in this scary place, this room with new people who were trying to keep her still and she knew it would hurt.
So when she turned towards Petey and felt his soft fur on her check, for just long enough she forgot about needles and sticks and scary things and became silent. She had never had the dog so close and she was mesmerized by his stillness.
The nurse was able to get the job done and the little girl was comforted by Petey.
So hen people ask me “what do therapy dogs really DO,” I know that sometimes it is our presence that allows others to do THEIR JOB!
For more information about the Love Dog Adventures animal assisted therapy program, visit wwwlovedogadventurs.org.