We are so happy to share that Tater Tot is officially a therapy puppy! Project Canine is the only organization we are aware of that certifies dogs under 1 year of age. We do this because puppies bring a special kind of healing energy to people. That being said, it’s very difficult for a puppy to become certified because, well, they are puppies! And a lot of what is typical for puppies is not appropriate for therapy dog visits. Currently, we certify approximately 4 puppies per year. Here are some of the keys for a puppy to be certified:
- Bite inhibition – this is a dog’s ability to moderate the pressure and use of its teeth and mouth
- Self-regulation – a puppy needs to be able be a puppy, but not be lunging, crying, whining and chewing on visitors
- Obedience skills – puppies must have their basic obedience skills including polite "4 on the floor" greetings.
We focus on puppies 5 months of age or older for certification. It is possible to certify puppies younger than that, but only by special application. Generally, these very young puppies require very experienced handlers in order to successfully certify and we do perhaps 1 per year.
There are special considerations when handling a puppy:
- We recommend very short visits. About 15 – 30 minutes works well.
- We recommend calm environments like eldercare vs. high-intensity group visits or visits with lots of children.
- It’s important that puppy handlers are very tuned in to their dogs and don’t allow them to become overtired or overstimulated.
- Puppy handlers also need to recognize if their puppy needs a break from therapy visits because they have developed a behavior that is inappropriate for therapy visits and needs to be worked on and worked through before they start visiting again.
Judi has worked VERY HARD to socialize Tater and get him used to medical equipment, strangers, and lots of different types of situations and sounds. Judi has been taking him to puppy classes and also puppy play times and she has been vigilant in working with him in a way that is positive and builds her relationship with him.
Although Tater has certified, “it’s not over.” He is just 18 weeks old and there is a lot more to do before he is a solid, adult therapy dog. We will do a check-in with him at 6 months old and then he will have to do the Adult Certification process at 1 year of age.
One of the key things we are focusing on with Tater right now is his arousal around other dogs. While he was 100% solid in the neutral dog steps of the exam, he has exhibited intensity around other dogs in other situations. It is behavior that is typical for his Jack Russell breed and Judi is focusing on teaching him not to “take a stand” with other dogs and not to be toy or resource possessive towards other dogs.
We will update you soon with more on Tater’s progress.