Trish and Lucy: The Journey to Become a Therapy Dog!

When one of our long term clients, Trish, came to us a few months ago asking for Steve to help her find a German Shepherd puppy that would be suitable to raise and train as a therapy dog to visit sick children in hospital, Steve jumped at the opportunity to find the perfect puppy for therapy work!

When Steve found a suitable litter he assisted Trish in selecting the most appropriate puppy by temperament testing the litter and that’s when he found Lucy! Trish has been following Steve’s training program since bringing Lucy the pup, we thought we’d share this interview with Trish so we could follow her progress with Lucy’s journey from German Shepherd puppy to a fully fledged Therapy Dog!

K9 PRO:  What motivated you to raise and train a dog for therapy work?

TRISH: Over the years I have seen and read a lot on animals used in therapy work. I first came across it close at hand when I was riding horses and helping out at the stables with a group of disabled children. The results with the children were amazing. I then started reading more on the internet about dogs used in hospital therapy work. So I started searching information on how I could join in on this. I have worked in St Vincent’s Hospital Emergency Department for many years now and I am very familiar with the environment, which drew me to wanting to do some volunteer work with children in hospital on a regular basis. There is nothing more wonderful than making a child laugh….and to bring a smile to a very ill child, well that is just the jackpot.  It is well documented and scientifically proven that using dogs in therapy in hospitals can reduce the use of analgesia for some patients. I have long wanted to be part of that with a dog that I owned.

K9PRO: Why did you ask Steve for assistance in selecting the right puppy for you?

TRISH: Easy, I love German Shepherds and although I have owned dogs all my life, I have only had shepherds with my last two dogs, one I bought as a puppy and an adult that I adopted two years ago. Sasha my adopted girl was too old for therapy work and unsuitable. Gus who I bought as a puppy from a breeder I found on the web….well let’s just say that he was the kind of dog where he didn’t see you as visiting our house so much as breaching the perimeter!!! I loved him but he was never going to make the gentle therapy dog grade I’m afraid. I had no idea he was going to be like that when I saw him at 6 weeks old. If I was to do this therapy dog work, and with a German Shepherd……who picks a GSD for heavens sake, aren’t they all cute beagles, sweet faced cockers or lovable labradors? Well yes actually. SO as I had already known Steve when he helped me with my boy Gus (now sadly gone) who had a few “issues”…I knew that he was my only hope at selecting the right temperament GSD for the job. I simply did not have the capability to look at a litter and have any idea on how to find the right dog to do what I needed it to do (and I could not be trusted to look at a cute litter of puppies and not walk away with one or more of them regardless of what they were like!). Steve was brilliant and it took him around 6 months to find a litter that might have a suitable pup available. Steve located Lucy in Queensland. He had very stringent criteria and new absolutely exactly what I would need to do the job.

K9PRO: What kind of temperament were you looking for in a dog for therapy work?

TRISH: The puppy could not have high drive, that was very important. Strong nerve, confident, secure and willing to be handled but not needing to be next to you every minute. And of course just all round sweet natured.

K9PRO: Have you found raising Lucy for therapy work different to raising a dog that is strictly a pet?

TRISH: Oh yeah! I am following closely Steve’s training program that he has specifically designed for the type of work Lucy is going to do. I have to be very mindful of introducing her to “new sights and sounds” carefully. I had to be sure I didn’t imprint any fear in her in those formative first weeks where this can happen as a therapy dog in a hospital is going to be exposed to a lot of strange and possibly scary sounds. I had to ensure I taught her to “self settle” to assist in her ability to be independent (confident, secure etc.). She had to be crate trained. Mat training is also very important as is every bit of obedience training. So where as if I was just raising a pet, it wouldn’t matter if we goofed, but with a puppy “on a mission”, I am mindful of everything in the light of how it will effect her as a therapy dog. I have particularly had to introduce children slowly to Lucy and with care so as not to make them an “exciting” thing to interact with when they met. I can’t have a GSD who wants to leap onto a hospital bed sending IV poles flying!! (aghhh I have a mental picture of that as a nightmare lol).  I have had to teach her to have a “zero value” to the experience to ensure she remains calm around babies and children. My niece brought her new baby around to our house when Lucy was only about 10 weeks. Lily absolutely “wailed” in front of Lucy….who eventually just lay down and went to sleep with all the racket going on. I knew then Steve had found me the right puppy!

K9PRO: How have you found the experience of raising Lucy so far?

TRISH: I adore her…..I am WAY too attached to her already and she is just turning 6 months old. She is just entering her “bratty” stage which  I liken to around a 2 year old child’s stage, and where if she was just a “pet” I wouldn’t care,  now as I don’t have a great deal of experience (ummmm make that none!) in raising a working dog,  I have to be so much more consistent and attentive to what I am doing. Every time I just want to “not worry about the training”, I will see something I am teaching her work, and I get very excited. I know that the reward at the end of this rainbow will indeed be gold!!! We have a long road ahead and a lot of hard work. This is a huge learning curve for me………..Fingers crossed!!!!!! (for me that is, Lucy is fine 🙂

Steve adds:


Lucy is currently six (?) months old and is progressing well with her training so far, we look forward to sharing their progress with you, keep your eyes peeled for the next update on Lucy’s training to become a Therapy Dog!


About SteveK9Pro

Steve Courtney is a Nationally Accredited Canine Behaviour Specialist, Obedience Trainer, Law Enforcement Dog Trainer and ANKC Breeder. Steve has been training dogs all his life and in these articles he shares with you his experience...

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