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There is a reason that the Ggolden Retriever is one of America's favorite dogs. With their gorgeous feathered coats ranging from blonde to bronze, their sweet expressions and happy good natures, they are hard to beat. For the same reasons that Goldens make an appealing family pet, they can be an appealing therapy dog. Goldens are often work-driven as well, since they were bred to be hunting retrievers, and are a favorite as service dogs. Your Golden Retriever can be an amazing therapy dog, bringing joy and comfort and aiding in the healing process for hospital patients.
Goldens are driven to please and most enjoy work, but they can also be very high energy. If your Golden is bouncing off the walls and can't seem to contain herself, you will need to expel her excess energy and teach her self-control before beginning training. Some dogs simply need more time to mature and get control of themselves before they can begin advanced training. Be realistic and patient with your dog, being careful not to over-extend your expectations.
Your Golden Retriever should have dependable basic obedience and have good leash manners before you begin therapy training. If your retriever doesn't understand concepts like "calm" and has not yet developed self-control, it is best to master these skills at the start of training. Your dog will benefit from having good exercise prior to therapy training. She should be relaxed, happy, and ready to learn. You don't want to wear her out to the point of being exhausted, but you do want her to have gotten the wiggles out. A good game of fetch or a run through a makeshift agility course are good ways to burn off some steam.
The Work Toy Method
Your Golden is a retriever, and if she expresses strong retrieval instincts, you can utilize that drive to focus and calm her at work.
Choose a toy that is comfortable for your Golden to carry for extended periods, that is soft but firm enough that she won't destroy it.
Build respect for the toy
This toy should only be used in training, and your Golden should not have it at any other time. Use it to throw for fetch or play tug with it as a reward, but only for good behavior at work. At home it should not be used.
Teach your retriever to carry the toy while she goes through training. This will remind her that she is working while she walks through distracting environments and interacts with people.
Have your Golden carry her toy through all sorts of public environments and inside spaces she can go like pet stores and home improvements stores. Some businesses will let you practice if you tell them you are training for therapy. Reward for good carrying and polite behavior with tug and fetch games.
The Tied to You Method
If your Golden is extremely devoted to you and your lifestyle allows her to go most places with you, you can keep her with you constantly to teach her how to behave.
Reward for good behavior
Constantly have desirable things for your Golden on hand. Treats, tug toys, and fetch toys are all useful in training. You can even feed your dog her kibble throughout the day as rewards.
Watch your Golden closely and reward her for all good behavior. If she calmly greets a stranger, reward or ask the stranger to reward her. Reward calm states of mind and instances of resisting impulse.
Begin going places with more temptation and distraction. Reward your Golden well for good behavior in these instances
Work up to therapy
Keep working with your Golden until she is trustworthy in all public spaces. At this point you can go through therapy certification. Make sure you keep rewarding and training as you become accustomed to therapy work.
The Model Dog Method
Influencing state of mind
If you have access to a calm, well behaved therapy dog, your Golden can learn from her state of mind.
Go out together with both dogs. Reward for calm and desirable behavior. Make sure your Golden can see when you reward the other dog, and encourage her to mimic the other dog's behavior to get a reward.
Gradually increase the distractions in the environments you bring the dogs to until your Golden is comfortable in all sorts of situations, and understands how she should behave.
Practice activities with your Golden alone, rewarding generously at first as your Golden gets the feel for self-control without another dog to influence her.
Build up to therapy
As you build trust with your Golden, ask businesses to let you practice inside and get therapy certification.
By Coral Drake
Published: 02/15/2018, edited: 01/08/2021