Assistance Dog v Therapy Dog
Do you need a Therapy Dog or a Service Dog?
Australian Cobberdogs have become extremely popular across the world and this has attracted a lot of brand new breeders, some of whom have never bred dogs before of any breed. Your breeder may or may not understand the difference between Therapy and Service Assistance dog temperament so it's important for you to be clear when you describe what you need in your own particular situation. Therapy temperament is the most often asked for, but in many litters there will be a couple of puppies better suited to Service careers than they are to family homes especially where owners are inexperienced with dogs or have very young children. Many of the problems I see owners posting on social media, are due to square pegs being forced into round holes.
Another name could well be 'Comfort Dog' for these caring souls who yearn to snuggle close to you and soothe your anxiety with their doggie empathy and loving presence. When you're feeling down, or unwell, they won't leave your side. If you're visiting hospice or homes for the elderly, they intuitively know which person in the room needs them the most and will make a bee line for that individual to stay near to them in benevolent silence and with an undeniable sensitivity to what that person is experiencing, whether it's physical or emotional pain.
Therapy Australian Cobberdogs are wired for the job. It's in their genes and things like eye contact don't need to be taught. The only training they need is the basic obedience training that every puppy of any breed needs in order to be a well mannered member of the community. Certified Therapy Dogs working outside of the home are not permitted to lick, and natural lickers can be difficult to dissuade. Breeders should pass over the effusively kissing puppy in a litter when selecting a puppy they know will be doing certified Therapy work later on. So mention your intentions early on.
For Family dog, kids' dog, housebound illness, comfort in sad times, anxiety, depression, selective mutism in children, a range of confidence issues, emotional support, then THERAPY temperament is the way to go.
Disclaimer: There are some unique situations where it may not be in the interests of any dog to live in a particular environment. If a breeder feels that this may be the case, I recommend the breeder request the puppy applicant to put the breeder in touch with the applicant's therapist or health professional.
ASSISTANCE DOG sometimes referred to as SERVICE DOG or 'working temperament'
These Cobberdogs have the same intuitive and loving nature as the Therapy Cobberdogs but-and it's a very important 'but', their temperament is underpinned with a strong prey drive. This means an intense desire or even a need to be always actively learning something new as youngsters.
As an adult they need to be actively doing something on a daily basis that they've been taught. They are wired to serve. It makes complete sense when we consider some of the tasks they will be required to perform.
These may include: Learn several hundred words & relate them to objects: i.e.
"Get me my RED shoes,
"Bring me a BEER from the FRIDGE".
Learn dozens of actions like turn off the lights, open and close doors, notice dropped objects and retrieve them whether asked to or not, bring their work vest or harness, put dirty clothes into the washing machine, and empty the dryer, leave their owner with SOS Tag to run for help, alert for a coming seizure or diabetic high or low, just to name a few.
Likely Outcomes of a Mis-match
Therapy temperament placed where Assistance/Service temperament was required
Because Cobberdogs all have receptive minds to training and puppies often pick up what's wanted after being shown just one time, this puppy's unsuitability for what's expected probably won't be recognized until thousands of dollars have been spent on training. As advanced training progresses, he will lack the enthusiasm to go further. He'll simply flunk the course because he's satisfied with what he's already learned. Because he's clever, he might even have worked out his own ways to avoid some of the tasks he's not interested in pursuing. This could lead to you thinking he's dumb but it's actually the opposite!
Assistance/Service temperament placed where Therapy temperament was required
This is the most common scenario. This puppy is so bored that he does anything and everything to get attention. In his mind even negative attention is better than what he perceives to be not enough! So he chews, destroys things, digs holes, and misbehaves so badly that his family are frustrated to the point of giving him up. But they love him! When he's cute he's very cute, but when he's in trouble it's breaking their hearts with indecision.
From the puppy's perspective, he always seems to be in trouble and he can't work out why. He's not to know for instance that when he's being mouthy, he's a very bad puppy only because he's in the wrong home. A mouthy Assistance/Service Dog puppy is highly prized because he's so easy to train to pick up things, manage things like velcro fasteners and learn other specialized tasks that need him to use his teeth or mouth.
How to pick a Service dog likely candidate from a litter of puppies
Food, reveals a lot about a puppy’s character because it comes under the same instinct of survival as I explain in my book. Put a bowl of their favorite food or treats in amongst the hungry puppies then sit back and imagine the same scenario only with a group of very young children presented with their favorite candy. Imagine the kids don’t know they are being observed, while you notice how they react to one another with the bowl of goodies being suddenly put in front of them.
Then ask yourself the question: “What character traits should I be looking for in order for the dog to carry out the tasks which will be required?” True Service dogs need the following in order to excel-
How to pick a Therapy Dog likely candidate from a litter of puppies
Most Australian Cobberdogs are innately - born Therapy dogs for a multitude of personal and family situations and require nothing beyond the usual basic training that any puppy needs. This should be no surprise, because, after all, this is the precise reason that I developed the breed in the first place! However, in recent years, additional situational requirements have evolved like a combustible explosion and 'professional' therapy dogs have greater demands placed on them than their family oriented counterparts. Some of the placements for these career-minded therapy dogs include but are not limited to the following:
These working environments require the dogs to engage with total strangers in the same way the family therapy dog engages with much loved family members it knows and trusts.
So again, ask yourself the question: “What character traits should I be looking for in order for the dog to carry out the tasks which will be required?”
We'll focus on the career oriented Therapy dog here, only because the requirements are more demanding. The same apply to the family and personal Therapy dog, but to a much lesser degree.
Trusting and quietly confident when in unfamiliar situations
But be aware that trust can be broken by rough handling. Young children should not be left unsupervised to play with baby puppies.
Finally, this article wouldn't be complete without slaying the myth that smaller Cobberdogs are too active to be good Therapy dogs. A surprising number of people are telling me that even their 'hi-profile' breeder has told them this. It definitely should NOT be so. As breeders, we produce what we selectively breed for. To ignore temperament in any size of Australian Cobberdog is to eventually lose it altogether in the breed.