Monday, September 26, 2016

Maggie's Point of View

So what’s in it for Maggie when we go for therapy visits? Maggie certainly enjoys getting out of the house and going for a ride in the car. She often looks out the window taking in the view. At the age of seven Maggie is at the stage where she is content to sleep most of her day if she is not engaged. If I am working from home at my desk she will sit at my feet but will usually fall asleep. Maggie loves to interact with people. Part of this is due to her breed. The Goldendoodle is known to be a breed that gets along well with other animals as well as with people. The other part is due to her training as a therapy dog. For the past four years Maggie knows that when we get into the car we are going for a therapy visit. Or should I say 9 times out of 10. The other times we are headed to the vet or to get bathed. During a therapy visit Maggie is not allowed to have any contact with the other animals present, but if we get there before the session starts we do greet the other animals. For her it’s like getting it out of her system. Maggie has gotten used to this routine. She knows for the duration of the visit she is there to interact with the people. You might ask how she knows this? Through repetition and positive reinforcement (treats!) At a hospital visit we are on the move. Walking from room to room, spending a few minutes in each room. Maggie is patient while I interact with each person but more importantly she get a lot of attention in the form of a gentle rub on her back, behind the ears and of course her favorite treat! At a visit to a nursing home we are moving but at a much slower pace. We are usually stationed in a meeting room of some sort and we move from person to person (they are seated). About halfway through the visit we will generally go to another unit. At the nursing home each person will spend time with Maggie petting her. If there is time I try to show them a few of Maggie’s tricks. The patients there enjoy this and Maggie gets rewarded with treats! At all other visits to universities, elementary schools and libraries we are seated and the students rotates from animal to animal. Maggie is use to both types of visits and can handle either. She just goes with the flow. On another note an interesting outcome of Maggie being a therapy dog is that while we are out walking in the neighborhood Maggie expects to be greeted, petted and given treats. This is due to her conditioning. It makes for taking a quick walk very difficult. I’ve had to explain this quite often to people we’ve met while on our daily walks. Most people expect dogs to be interested in one another and while Maggie will greet another dog she will quickly adjust her attention to the human sidekick. As long as she gets some sort of attention Maggie is a happy camper!

Monday, September 19, 2016

And My Favorite Is........

Every time I have the opportunity to take Maggie on a therapy visit I think “this has to be my favorite place to visit”. That being said I thought I would discuss the different places we visit and some of my goals while we are there. When we go to a hospital the idea of cheering someone up (especially if they are experiencing pain) gives me great satisfaction. I enjoy talking with everyone and hearing their story (totally their choice if they choose to share it) Most of the time, I get to hear about their dogs or a dog they knew or currently know. Of course Maggie gets most of the attention and some treats as well. My goal for the visit is to engage each person and make them feel special (distracting them from their pain is quite helpful as well)! Nursing homes are a great place to cheer people up. The mood is usually sedate. I find most residents sitting around waiting for an activity to start, so when we walk in as a group (we are generally 2-3 dogs and 1-2 rabbits) the mood is instantly lifted. Conversation is about people’s younger days which is great stimulation for their brain and Maggie just goes with the flow – as long as she gets her time allotment of hugs and treats! Colleges and Universities visits have a lot of energy. I can feel Maggie go on high alert especially when our sessions occur outdoors. Sometimes there is so much activity she doesn’t know where to look first. Although most of the students are stressed when we meet with them there is still a positive energy flow throughout our sessions-something that I see Maggie is able to pick up on. Most of our conversations are focused around the student’s pets that they miss from back home but there are always a few students who are nice enough to ask a few questions about Maggie. The students are always appreciative of our visits by saying “this is the best day!!”I hear this repeatedly throughout my visit. Maggie really loves these visits. At our last visit at Immaculata University Maggie resisted leaving when I got up to go. .I literally had to bribe her with treats to get her going. Everyone there had a good laugh about it! Elementary schools are very loud and noisy! The students have an opportunity to practice reading to Maggie. They seem to enjoy this and of course Maggie is not going to judge them on their level and ability to read. Some kids choose to pet Maggie while they read while others prefer to read first and pet her after. Maggie doesn’t mind either way. By the end of the session Maggie is exhausted from the level of the noise and activity and is always eager to return home for a long nap! Special needs visits differ slightly from regular school visits as the children might have an aide sit with them and help them read or encourage them to interact with Maggie. There are many different scenarios that might play out but Maggie will generally adapt to all situations. With both school settings the children take turns reading and move around so each child present gets a chance to visit with all the animals that came for the visit that day. My goal for these school visits are for the children to feel they were successful in their ability to engage with Maggie –be it by reading to her or petting her. When I see them walking away with a smile on their face I know I have done a good job. So, the question remains which is my favorite place to visit with Maggie? ALL OF THEM !!!

Monday, September 12, 2016


I am often asked why Maggie will turn her backside to someone. So I thought it would be a good idea to discuss some of Maggie’s behaviors. Although Maggie is a therapy dog she is first a family dog. Maggie turns her backside to people because she wants to be pet on one of her favorite spots (her backside where she can’t reach herself). When Maggie and another dog approach each other it is very normal for them to sniff each other on their backsides (this is similar to humans shaking hands upon greeting) Dogs get to know each other by their smells and a dog’s backside has the strongest smell. If a dog approaches another dog and goes straight to its head that is usually a sign of aggression. There are times when we are out for a walk and another dog will approach and Maggie will go down on the ground. This is her way of submitting to the other dog. Maggie is giving in to the other dog’s superiority. Also on walks there are times Maggie will simply stop walking. I have learned to listen to her and wait a few minutes. She can sense (or smell) a friend close by. Nothing like a “Good Morning” to start your day off on the right foot. When Maggie was younger she used to cock her head to one side. This meant she was listening to a noise. Dog’s hearing is 1000 times more sensitive than ours. So naturally they will hear things we will not. So why do dogs cock their head? It helps them focus and pay attention to where the noise is coming from. There are times in the middle of the night that I will hear Maggie scratching the rug. I used to wonder what she was doing. So naturally I turned to Google. Turns out it is a natural behavior that dates back to when dogs where outside creatures and they claimed their territory. It also creates comfort for them. Some people equate it to us fluffing our pillows before we go to sleep. Maggie is extremely afraid of thunderstorms (something I was hoping she would outgrow). From the second the first rumble can be heard I know we are in for a rough patch. The only way to soothe her is to wrap something tight around her. When I can’t find anything I have actually placed pillow from the sofa on top of her and that has done the trick. I feel badly for her but no amount of reassurance works. I just know that in time the storm will pass and she will feel normal again. Maggie’s favorite sport is chasing squirrels in the backyard. They usually run up a tree when Maggie comes after them. In the beginning it was just when she happened to be outside. Now when I simply say the word “Squirrel” (when she is in the house) she will jump up and race to the back door waiting excitedly to be let out. She will wait at the bottom of the tree and give a bark to let them know she sees them. Eventually she will give up and wander away. I often wonder what will happen if she ever catches one. Hopefully not bring it in for dinner! Maggie is also an active dreamer. How do I know? I have seen her move around a lot as well as bark while she is sleeping. Her paws sometimes move as is she is walking and her snout moves as well. Wonder if she is dreaming of going for a walk and smelling all her familiar smells? I have also seen her tail wag (I guess that means she is having a happy dream!). Sometimes when she whines I feel bad and calmly call her name and she will settle down. These are just some of Maggie’s behaviors. As you can see when she is home she is a regular and loving

Monday, September 5, 2016

Inspection 2X

As I walked into the Philadelphia VA this past week two things out of the ordinary occurred. I was greeted by the head of my organization who was filling in for someone who couldn’t make it and we were notified that the hospital was presently undergoing inspection on a state level. So, how did these events affect Maggie and me? Being under scrutiny from the head honcho of your organization is stressful enough but when someone (actually there were two people) from the state checks to make sure you are sanitizing before and after leaving every room, and making sure Maggie is acting appropriately can be quite stressful (although the only unprofessional attribute Maggie displays is eating crumbs off the floor something I am continually working on). We only ran into them once, but the amount of extra sanitizer used that day was intense! I was aware that Steve and his sidekick Sadie were unable to walk around with Maggie and me as he had sent me a text the previous day. When this has happened in the past Maggie and I have walked around ourselves. But I didn’t know there would be a replacement for Steve until I received an email shortly before the session began. Was I nervous? A little. The last time I had a session with the head honcho she did point out a few things she thought I might change or brush up on with Maggie (although constructive criticism is not necessarily a bad thing). So I wasn’t sure what would happen this time. Hindsight I was glad I didn’t have too much time to worry about this because by the time the session ended she had nothing but praise for the job Maggie and I did. She was amazed that so many of the residents remembered Maggie and thanked me when I gave her a heads up about certain limitations with some of the residents. We walked around with both Maggie and Bubbles the Bunny. As most Goldendoodle, Maggie loves rabbits and will follow them anywhere. This particular rabbit is trained to stay on his towel so each resident can hold the rabbit (if they choose) and pet it for a period of time. Each room we walked into was happy to see Maggie but was surprised to see the rabbit. Bubbles, was well received by all. His fur definitely felt different then Maggie’s which is great for sensory stimulation. Allowing the residents to hold the rabbit is also different then petting a dog. I learned that this particular breed of rabbit, the French Hotot lives to about 10 years old so Bubbles at 5 is halfway through his life. Bubbles, also weighs about 3 pounds, a big difference then Maggie’s 75 pounds. Turned out to be a nice change for the residents, really perked the hospital up! Even the state inspectors who knew about the therapy dogs were pleasantly surprised to see a therapy rabbit.