Delta Society is one of the largest and oldest (1977) organizations with branches all over the country. They have a very informative web site and give training and certify dogs for Animal Assisted Therapy, Animal Assisted Activities and as Pet-Partners, which is what I do with Tigger.

We visit Nursing Homes where the residents talk to Tigger, pat him and he does a few little tricks. He likes it, but it can be stressful as there are many residents on several floors and in day rooms.

The visits last an hour or so. It is very rewarding and you just cannot imagine the impact. I was surprised. Residents talk about dogs they have had, laugh, and seem to come alive.

One woman who hadn't spoken in weeks chatted to Tigger, one woman who wouldn't leave her room came out to see him People who have trouble remembering things remember his name.

Delta does the testing of dogs and the certification but allows you to choose where and when you will visit and are very understanding about it if you are away. They make it easy. I know there are other good programs too. There are programs for children where they read to the dogs. It has helped the children improve remarkably; ASPCA has such a program here in NYC. Delta certifies the dogs for it.

Havanese Make Love Go Round

The little Havanese is made for loving, and cuddles and kisses .....Often, we hear about the virtues of dog ownership. After a stress filled day, how wonderful it is to relax with your pup; perhaps a leisurely walk or a cuddle or a lively game of fetch. Just seeing or touching a dog can be beneficial to a person's health and has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as lessening anxiety. Havanese are overflowing with love. Why not consider spreading some of that love around by becoming involved in a Visiting Dog/ Pet Partners Program. It is a very rewarding activity that Havanese is well suited for. A good Visiting Dog/Pet Partner needs to be calm, gentle and friendly. These and other important traits come naturally to the Havanese.

For the purpose of this article the term Visiting Dog/Pet Partner shall refer to the dog that participates in animal assisted activities such as visiting the infirmed or elderly. Some organizations use the general term "Therapy Dog" while other organizations do not use the term "Therapy" unless a licensed Therapist is present and specific program criteria are met.

Visiting Dog Programs are found worldwide and consist of programs and organizations that facilitate canine visits to people in care facilities or at home. Such friendly, cheerful visits can help lessen feelings of depression, loneliness and isolation. Dogs don't care about things like age, appearance or infirmity, but accept people as they are. Many residents of care facilities have had to give up their beloved pets and greatly miss the companionship and unconditional love. Regular visits give them the opportunity to share feelings and thoughts as well as to reminisce about the past. A short visit can have lasting benefits; many people remain more active and responsive long after we have gone. Weekly visits are eagerly anticipated by residents and staff alike and provide a sunny break from daily routine. Staff often take a moment for a brief hello and a pat, then continue on their way with a smile.

Havanese are well suited to visits in Senior's facilities and Nursing homes. Their small size is ideal for curling up on a lap or cuddling on a bed. The super soft fur is irresistible and just begs to be stroked. The fact that they don't shed is a bonus.

Havanese are born clowns (easy to trick train) and love to show off and get attention. In our facility; many residents assemble in small sitting rooms and enjoy short trick shows followed by cuddles and kisses. A poorly responsive person can become quite animated and talkative. Joy and light shines in their eyes. In that moment, happiness is theirs: all made possible because of a tiny Havanese. Such reactions are heartwarming.

Properly qualified dogs are welcomed at a number of facilities. The old attitudes that considered dogs unclean and unwanted visitors are slowly changing as more and more studies prove the benefits. Though some facilities do allow visits from non-certified handlers and dogs, being part of a program has benefits for all involved. Joining a group provides structure, guidance, proper evaluation and certification as well as insurance coverage. Two well-known organizations are the Delta Society and Visiting Dogs International. Well-run organizations insure that both the handler, as well as the dog, is prepared to participate in animal assisted activities. The organizations have local clubs that assist with volunteer placement, support and supervision.

The work is not for everyone. Is it for you? Consider sharing the love. The benefits are many and you will get back so much more than you give.

Visiting With Rags

My two Havanese and I are active members of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dogs (Canada). Here's what a typical usually happens when Rags and I visit a Senior's Nursing home. Just as we arrive, I put on his therapy scarf. Then it's in to the office to sign in and check with the activities coordinator for special events as well as find out about any new residents or condition changes of our regulars. Of course, we must stop and say "Hi" to everyone in the office. Then we start visiting. Rags' first stop is one of the small breakfast rooms. Every week we catch the same 4 ladies just finishing breakfast. He pops up with one paw on a knee and cocks his head. Irresistible! They fall for it every time. They always save him some tiny tidbit. I am adamant about refusing some foods, while others, I allow, however I always control the portions. Some days he gets a crust of toast with peanut butter, or a bite of waffle or pancake or a spoonful of oatmeal and a slice of banana or maybe some scrambled eggs. Then, off we go to do individual rooms: some for just a quick hello, others for a longer visit. He knows exactly which residents allow him to hop on the bed and which residents keep dog biscuits in the night table for him. Food can be an issue. Many residents want to feed the dogs. He has even been offered such "delicacies" as peppermints, candy canes, gumdrops, cake and chocolate. I have found the best way around this is to bring my own treats. I bring a supply of Cheerios. They are tiny, not messy, easy to handle and he loves them. If residents insist on feeding, I just give them a couple to feed to Rags. The first floor of the residence has mobile, cognizant residents. That's where we start. Then it's off to the second floor. Here we have poorly responsive and more senile people. We only visit a few people here. With very little feedback, Rags can get quite stressed. This is followed up by a visit to the third floor residents who are less mobile but still cognizant. As we get there, a music volunteer has just arrived to play for the residents who are assembled in a large sitting room. While she plays, Rags dances for the residents and does a few tricks, followed by "hellos" and cuddles for all who want it. Then Rags goes to sit on the piano bench. The music lady makes a big fuss over him and offers him her music book to let him select songs. With a paw or a nose he ALWAYS picks "How Much Is That Doggie", followed by "Bingo" and "Old MacDonald". The residents love it. By now about 1&1/2 hours has passed and we have visited about 30 residents plus numerous staff members. Rags waves a paw to everyone then back down in the elevator. At the door, his favorite resident is waiting. He pops up in her lap and she takes him for a wheelchair ride to the garden or down the halls. Afterwards. we sign out and our visit is over for another week.

Becoming a Certified Visiting Dog

Any well-behaved, healthy dog of sound temperament can become a Visiting Dog/Pet Partner. Test requirements vary among organizations.

Many Visiting Dog Programs have developed training programs that ensure that both the handler as well as the dog are prepared for their work in animal assisted activities. The Delta Society, the oldest nationwide organization of its type, has a Team Evaluation process Most organizations administer a pre-screening test for the handler and dog. This helps decide whether the team is well suited for the work. A good organization will provide training sessions and a post-test to evaluate the team before awarding certification.

Overview of the Team Evaluation Process, From the Delta Society Organization, USA

The Team Evaluation process evaluates the animal/handler team, how well the handler interprets and manages the animal's behavior, and how well the animal responds to the handler.

Team evaluations are performed by Delta-licensed Team Evaluators. There are 2 parts:

1. Pet Partners Skills Test (PPST) - shows whether the animal can be controlled by you and follow basic commands. During the PPST, you will be assessed on how you interact with the evaluator, the evaluator's assistants, the animal, and the environment around you.

2. Pet Partners Aptitude Test (PPAT) - designed to simulate conditions that may be encountered on a visit. This screening helps determine the most appropriate environment for you and your animal. Many people compare this to a temperament test. During the PPAT, you will be assessed on how well you interact with the evaluator and evaluator's assistants as you simulate being on a visit. They will be acting as though they are in a facility. Your interactions may be in the form of questions, responses to the evaluator and evaluator's comments, eye contact, smiling, head nodding, directing the animal to interact, or other verbal and nonverbal methods of communicating.

Most Organizations wish to see the following Dog/Handler Skills prior to joining training classes: Obedience Requirements: SIT, DOWN, SIT-STAY, DOWN-STAY,LOOSE-LEAD WALKING, COME WHEN CALLED, ATTENTION TO NAME, "LEAVE IT/ OFF"

Owner/Handler Requirements: The owner must demonstrate control over the dog at all times.

Examination and Handling: Dog must accept from owner and/or unfamiliar people, mild poking, pulling, holding paws and tail, grabbing scruff, patting head, and potentially uncomfortable things for many dogs like staring into the eyes and prolonged hugs. Unsettling Situations: We test for sound sensitivity and visuals which could have a negative effect on dogs who do not have the temperament for this work from keys dropping to approaching hospital equipment, people yelling and screaming, metal trays clanging etc.

Meetings and Greetings: Dogs should be able to sit to meet as many people as possible.

Canine Behaviors/Conditions that are incompatible with the work of Visiting Dog Programs:

· Aggression towards humans

· Aggression towards other dogs

· Marked signs of fearfulness or shyness

· Inappropriate urinating or defecating

· Hyper-activity (including inattentiveness, excessive barking, jumping up, excessive licking, mouthing or pawing)

· Medical concerns/advanced age such as: fatigue, stiffness, excessive panting or other signs of discomfort.

Handler Behaviors that are incompatible with Visiting Dog Programs:

· Rough or abusive handling of the dog

· Unwillingness to take direction from trainers

Resources

The Pet Partners Team Training Course provides complete and more detailed information. FMI: Delta Society Pet Partners Program

Therapy Dogs International

The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program (Canada)

Many other excellent local organizations exist and can be found by contacting local resources such as dog training clubs or by conducting an internet search.

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