At what age should I begin her training as a therapy dog?
Hello Lynn, Right now. You can start as soon as a puppy's eyes open. Work on getting her used to being handled by practicing giving her a treat every time you touch an area of her body. Do this for a couple of minutes with every area of her body every day whenever you can. Also, expose her to as many new things, especially lots of different types of people, and make the experiences positive by giving her treats and praise during the interactions with new things. Most puppies start out friendly and will let you handle them while young, but if you do not practice it now many dogs will quickly loose those things as they age. Also, enroll her in a puppy class where she can practice playing with other puppies under the supervision of a trainer. You want to let the puppies have a chance to practice gentle mouthing and learn how to control the pressure of their mouths. When one puppy starts to seem overwhelmed or one puppy is getting too rough, then separate the puppies, work on something fun like Sit with treats for a minute, then let the puppy who wanted to stop go back to playing first to see if he still wants to play. If he does, then you can let the puppies resume playing. If he does not want to play anymore, then let that puppy have a longer break. Moderating the play this way prevents fear and bullying from happening, and instead let's the rough puppies learn when they are being too rough and let's the shy puppies have a chance to recover and want to play again. These are the most important things to work on for future therapy work at this age. Good control of a puppy's bite pressure makes him far safer as an adult. Socialization cannot be completely recovered most of the time as an adult, and is vital for therapy visits, and being comfortable with touch is essential for therapy work also. Bite-Inhibition and socialization can only be learned really well when a puppy is young. Those two things plus getting a puppy used to being touched, effect a puppy's future temperament more than anything else. You can also start obedience now. It is never too young for that. You will need to be patient because a puppy cannot focus for as long as an adult, but the obedience that you teach to a puppy will often stay with that puppy for the rest of his life because he never learns any bad habits in place of those things. Obedience can be taught to an older dog though, so socialization, bite-inhibition, and touch desensitization are the most important things to teach to prepare your pup now for therapy work later, if you do not have time to start obedience just yet also. Your goal should be for your puppy to be given treats from a hundred different people, including: kids, elderly, different skin colors, disabled people, toddlers, men, women, people wearing hats, glasses, beards, or with canes, wheelchairs, ects...Think of the possible people and things she will encounter later in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, or other locations and get her used to those things now with trips, treats, and praise. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
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