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Therapy Dog Cairn?

Betsy Leiss

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I'm very interested in pursuing Therapy Dog International certification for my cairn. She is almost ten months old, and is doing pretty good with obedience. But, she is so crazy around New people, Places, and Situations! She squeals like a pig and is hard to control, even after being in a new place for half an hour. Same thing if  a new person or dog comes to our home. I've exhausted every technique I know or could find on the internet to calm this behavior. She'll never pass the cert test (nor should she) with this type of behavior, but I think she has so much to offer people with special needs. I did therapy work with my Kerry Blue and it is incredibly rewarding. I really want to give Berneen the opportunity to help others. Does my girl need to see a specialist? Should I just expose her to new situations more? We live in an isolated area, she only sees me, my husband, and our other dog regularly.

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I think at 8 months she is still very much a puppy.  Actually, I think cairns are puppies until they settle in at about 2 years. I do think training is the key -- keep working with her, make sure she is in all sorts of different situations with other people and dogs when you do, and she will settle in time as the unusual becomes usual.  But I would not expect it to be for a year or two -- or even more!  But I would bet by the age of 5 or so, she could -- with the right training and exposure -- become a good therapy dog.  Cairns generally seem open to any experience that keeps them thinking, and therapy would probably be a good choice.

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There are indeed Cairns certified for therapy work and I agree with both you and Kathryn that they have some characteristics that make them excellent therapy dogs once the exuberance is under control.

AKC has some general recommendations.  I'm the sort of person who usually works backward from the goal, so I'd look to the TDI testing requirements and use that as a training plan to ensure that I have all bases covered when it's time to seek certification. While there are various organizations that do training that is oriented toward therapy dogs (such as with regard to equipment familiarization) TDI themselves say this about training:


Potential applicants are NOT required to take any Therapy Dog classes. At the present time, TDI does not offer or sanction any Therapy Dog classes. Even though we do not require formal obedience classes, we recommend at least basic and intermediate obedience classes plus prep classes to expose the dog to working in various types of settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc.

Each dog's individual personality probably has a role to play but certainly socialization should probably be as wide and deep as humanly possible. I think that's true even for a well-rounded pet, never mind an actual therapy dog. 

The world needs more therapy Cairns*  so have fun, good luck, and thank you!

* Secretly, I think they are all already personal therapy dogs :) 

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Thank you both! I still have my Therapy Dog International training manual, which I'll put to good use when Berneen is ready. She needs a lot more exposure, and I was hoping to have her test ready in a year. But I think now maybe that is a little optimistic.😊 You can't rush maturity! My Kerry and I took the TDI cert test and your dog really needs to focus, be responsive, and remain CALM (we had a person sneak up behind us with a big can of coins and rattle it behind my head. I almost jumped out of my skin, and my feeling went right through the leash!). What you've told me is encouraging. Thank you.

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Brodie (almost 9 months) squeals like a pig too!  I now put him in his kennel immediately for 15-30 seconds when someone comes to the door (the rest of the pack go into their kennels too) and when he calms down I let him out...if he goes crazy he goes right back in.  I don't scold him but he does quiet down (the others have also learned to quiet down).  Pepper (the 6 1/2 year old Cairn) is the BEST - she has quickly learned that she gets all the attention if she is quiet as a mouse and behaves!  She is a SMART girl.  Teddy the Lab is learning too... Brodie is a work in progress but such a loving little boy!!!

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Pepper's Mom

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Thanks! I'll give it a try. She likes her crate, but I don't know if, when highly excited, she'll calm down in it. But it's worth a try. It sounds like you have a wonderful pack! I have a sensitive question: who learns faster, Pepper of Teddy?

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