I love reading about the positive effects of therapy dogs and have always wondered what it takes for dogs to get trained and certified. When I learned that Anthony Newman of Brooklyn’s Calm Dog Energy Training is the proud owner of two therapy dogs, I picked his brain about the process and the work he does with his Greyhounds, Monkey and Turtle.
Q: Tell me about your dogs?
Newman: Monkey and Turtle are our two Calm Energy Greyhounds. We adopted them four years ago from Greyhound Angels in New Jersey who rescued them from racing previously in New Hampshire. A fun site where anyone can find out about the history of their Greys is www.greyhound-data.com
Q: What inspired you to pursue therapy dog certification for Monkey & Turtle?
Newman: We were already enlisting Monkey and Turtle to help in our Calm Energy Dog Training classes, helping clients socialize their dogs, helping with obedience training, and leading pack walks. They’re wonderful, calm, happy and loving dogs (as I think all dogs can be!) so it was natural to decide to spread their love to even more people who can benefit. Some of our first therapy experiences were even before they were certified, visiting my wife’s grandmother in a nursing facility. It was amazing walking in there – we were swarmed by residents who wanted to pet the dogs and tell us about the dogs they used to have – and about their grandkids, etc. It just opened our hearts and we were hooked.
Q: What steps are involved in obtaining the certification?
Newman: You go through a couple interviews with the great people at The Good Dog Foundation, who first check if your dogs know basic obedience commands and have generally good manners. Then you go through a six-week training course where the dogs learn to be comfortable around things like wheelchairs, walkers, loud noises, general nuttiness. Even more importantly, the classes help the human members of the therapy team (you and your dog make up a therapy team) learn how to deal with lots of intense emotional moments that can come up dealing with the people we visit.
Q: Is it an expensive undertaking?
Newman: Not too bad, a few hundred for basic obedience unless your dog can test out; a few hundred more for the advanced class; we had to pay an extra fee for the extra dog. It’s all amazingly worthwhile after you help even one person in need feel happier for a day.
Q: What type of work do your dogs perform? What places do they visit?
Newman: For The Good Dog Foundation we spent quite a bit of time in the cancer unit at Beth Israel in Manhattan, helping patients during their chemo treatments. We were also helping by being part of a study that will show that patients who are regularly visited by therapy dogs have better attendance rates at their procedures. That study should hopefully help get more funding and attention for the Good Dog Foundation and therapy dog services generally. Next we’re headed to a Jewish Health Center retirement facility in Brooklyn. Me and my wife have a bit of a soft spot for old folks.
In our personal work, Monkey and Turtle help us in the Calm Energy obedience classes we teach at Cheeky Dog Daycare in Dumbo, with demonstrations and also help socialize the other dogs. We also use them to lead pack walks which are great therapy for dogs that pull on leash, are fearful or anxious, or dog-aggressive. Sometimes they also help our obedience-seekers understand that their dogs aren’t the only misbehaved ones – even professional dog trainers’ dogs sometimes act a little naughty.
Q: Can any dog become a therapy dog? What should owners look for before enlisting their dogs in training?
Newman: Calmness certainly helps; if your dog is too skittish at noises or distractions that could be a problem. But I’m of the belief that most dogs yearn to be calm, peaceful, and balanced – thus the name of my business Calm Energy Dog Training. If you want to help people in need but you’re afraid your dog is too hyper or ill-behaved, give us a call and we’ll help you turn that spaz into a perfect little angel!