What happens on a visit?
Lewis’ friends are typically invited to stroke, pet and cuddle the therapy dog, interacting with him in whatever way they are most comfortable. Not all patients will want to handle him and this is fine as some will benefit just from watching him happily play with others. Physically able patients may play fetch or throw toys for him whilst others may want a cuddle or stroke; however, whatever the child’s needs his handler (David) will ensure the visit is conducted safely and smiles are made.
The objective of Lewis’ visit is to provide therapy in any way the patient feels comfortable and help patients relieve stress and tension associated with their conditions or illness, even just for a short time. Lewis has been trained with basic commands like sit, roll over, stay and even taught games such as ‘hide/find the ball’ or patiently resting treats on his paws to entertain patients. Accounting for a child’s condition and sometimes excited approach towards Lewis in the course of his work and in the training he’s had Lewis may be stroked roughly, hugged hard, or have his paws and tail manipulated. However, this area is monitored very closely by his handler (David) and any play deemed too rough causing distress towards Lewis, intervention will be made for the safety of the patient and Lewis; play and interaction is usually given a time frame of about 20 minutes before Lewis needs rewarding. Play can continue after this break but for no longer than two hours.
What are the core traits of a good therapy dog?
There are a huge range of different traits that a good therapy dog possesses, and any breed of dog may potentially have what it takes, there are no restrictions on things like age and size, assuming that the dog is adult, fit and suited for the role. The first and most important element of a good therapy dog is safety and temperament, therapy dogs must be completely safe around people from all walks of life and of all ages, in all sorts of different situations.
Therapy dogs must be highly social with both people and other dogs, and should also be generally calm, open and not phased by new situations. They should also be enthusiastic about meeting new people, kind, loving and friendly, while also able to moderate their behaviour instinctively to avoid inadvertently hurting someone who may be ill or not fully mobile, this describing Lewis to-a-T!
They must also be well trained, highly obedient and able to keep their heads and respond to commands when a lot of stimulus is competing for their attention, something Lewis spent 6 months initial training on and continues to do so on a daily basis and on official visits.