Melissa Siedenstrang, a certified professional dog trainer and Canine Good Citizen evaluator, had high hopes for Georgio – the handsome, black Saluki she adopted through SHUG. Even though he was young, a bit of a goof and thousands of miles from where he’d been born and abandoned, Melissa believed he could bring joy to others.
So, shortly after adopting him, she started him on a path toward becoming a certified therapy dog. Who says a Saluki can’t be well trained? Not, Melissa. We posed a few questions about their journey.
Why did you want Georgio to be a therapy dog?
I enjoy helping others, and seeing the joy the dogs bring not only to the patients in hospitals and nursing homes, but the staff as well.
What kind of therapy work will Georgio be doing?
Giorgio will be visiting Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Ind. He'll be greeting people at the front door as they walk in and also visiting children on the pediatric floor.
What made you think he’d be good at this and/or like doing this?
I went looking for a Saluki that would be able to do this. I knew I needed a younger one. I saw his pictures in his foster home in Qatar and just knew he'd be the one. He's also a ham and he loves learning and he loves having people pet him. He has a nonchalant attitude about life and nothing fazes him!
What tips can you give for others who want their dog to get this certification?
It's one of the most rewarding things that can be done. A lot of people think certain breeds can’t be a therapy dog or they’re dog’s “behavior problems” will prevent it. But most times a dog can be trained to do therapy work. It only took me eight months to train Giorgio from the time I adopted him to when we took the test.
What is the certification and who awards it? What kinds of things must the dog be able to demonstrate?
I volunteer and evaluate dogs for certification through Therapy Dogs International. The certification entitles the dog to insurance and access to places where pet dogs aren't allowed. (Just to be clear, therapy dogs are not service dogs for an individual.) The dogs must be able to heel on a leash, be around medical equipment, walk over food, be offered a treat and not take it upon command, wait at the door, be able to be left with another person without their owner in sit, down, stay, come from 20ft away. The list of requirements can be found on www.tdi-dog.org.
It benefits the community, and my dogs go everywhere with me...as a dog trainer they come to work with me and others also get to see how they behave and they get more people involved with the problem. Seeing the smiles on the faces of all the patients we visit makes it worthwhile.
What benefits do people get from therapy dogs?
The benefits are numerous including lowered blood pressure, a more enjoyable stay in the hospital, taking a patient’s mind off the fact that they’re in there especially around the holidays. They really lift the spirits of everyone they come into contact with.
Was there anything in particular with Georgio worth noting? Was he particularly good (or bad) at some tasks?
Giorgio was more difficult that he liked to umm...urinate everywhere. I thought he was likely to outgrow it so we waited and he finally quit. He also had a hard time with the leave it portion, but we made it happen through dedicated training.
We are so proud of Georgio. He part of a growing number of SHUG dogs helping their community and spreading the word about Sighthounds. If you’re interested in joining those ranks, you can get more information here.