The faces that lit up when they saw Herc made all the time, energy and tears worth it. We are just starting our journey and know that our work will be rewarded with infinite hugs and kisses.
Hercules came into my family at 8 weeks old with a very good temperament. He was the first puppy we had in 13 years and therapy dogs were becoming more common. It seemed like he would be a natural therapy dog. I took him through several classes and he later earned the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen – (AKC CGC) – and the advanced (AKC CGC-A).
We tested for Therapy Dogs International (TDI) when he was one and a half years old. He didn’t pass the “leave it” distraction test where he had to ignore food put in his face and on the floor. As a Labrador Retriever, he is very food motivated. When you test, you can’t reward good behavior with treats, just your voice. You also can’t correct using leash corrections. Your words and your body are your only tools.
We practiced hard for a few weeks and retested but he failed an early testing module that he had never failed. I was heartbroken. It felt unfair and I was frustrated. A few months later, I decided to retake the AKC CGC-A class and test TDI again. We failed the “leave it” test again.
The third time we took CGC-A I signed us up to reconnect as pet and owner. I felt I was putting too much pressure on both of us to become TDI certified. A TDI test rolled around near the end of our class and I didn’t want to do it. If we were not meant to be a therapy dog team then I didn’t want to keep pushing it. A few other handlers and my CGC-A teacher encouraged me to test again.
I reflected back on one of the reasons I wanted to do therapy as a handler. I want to help people who suffer from depression and anxiety. I want to do visits with support groups and schools. If possible, I want to take Hercules to schools that have experienced a recent trauma, like a disaster or death of a student, staff or faculty.
I owed it to the people who would benefit if Hope and Herc became a therapy team. I owed it to Herc to show me and the examiners that he could do it.
We passed the test on July 29, 2019 and we had lots of people cheering us on. We did our first therapy visit last weekend at a grief camp for children and adults who lost someone close to them. The faces that lit up when they saw Herc made all the time, energy and tears worth it. We are just starting our journey and know that our work will be rewarded with infinite hugs and kisses.
Hercules and his handler Hope have been certified for 2 months with Therapy Dogs International (TDI). They live and work in Des Moines, Iowa