Being a therapy dog is a perfect second career for many of our show dogs. In fact, many show dogs are naturals for this kind of work.

Uno spreads the love at Walter Reed Hospital. Photo Courtesy of David Frei and Angles on a leash. Photo by Mary Bloom

Your average show dog has just about seen it all, heard it all and done it all. He has walked on slippery cement floors, shiny linoleum and carpet of all types. Via hotels and motels, the show dog has conquered stairs – usually both open and closed – and rides in an elevator with aplomb.

Crashing folded metal crates and tipped over gating are all part of a routine day at the show. PA systems run from booming to pure static to an alien screech. Your show dog has heard small children crying, adults angry and happy and probably a number of foreign languages.

Show dogs walk on a lead and are used to being handled by strangers – even in some intimate ways such as the dental exam and, for males, the testicle count. For grooming, some breeds have developed amazing patience as their hair is pulled, pushed and sprayed.

Most show dogs have been exposed to an extensive array of humanity. They have met people of many races, ethnicities, ages, hairstyles and clothing styles. Between eccentric judges and way out there spectators they are used to wild hats and interesting footwear – to say nothing of tattoos, piercings and unusual hair colors (thinking of the striking blue Mohawk seen at Wine Country last week ). Flapping raincoats are not things of terror and neither are umbrellas. While a draped scarf or loose tie may be an enticing plaything to a show puppy, most adult dogs have learned to ignore them.

To be a star as a therapy dog, a dog doesn’t have to be a Westminster winner like Uno, the Beagle whose fame approaches Snoopy’s, or James, the elegant English Springer Spaniel. To the man “on the street” or in the wheelchair, any show dog is a big star. Most show dogs love being in the limelight and being admired and fussed over. They truly miss it when they retire and get left at home. Regular therapy visits give them a “show of their own” – just on Wednesday afternoon instead of Saturday and Sunday.

There are some show dogs who prefer to retire to their country homes or do performance. I have two young Belgian Tervurens, both of whom finished their championships young and easily. My bitch, Babe, would greatly prefer to go herding or tracking or run some agility. My young male Doc, on the other hand, is a very social kind of guy. He likes to mingle, loves to be rumpled and petted. His idea of fun would be a roomful of people and him as the sole and starring canine character. So you do need to look at your individual dog’s personality but for most show dogs, therapy work is a natural progression from the show ring.

Doing therapy work provides your dog with the adulation he is used to and it is good for you too. If nothing else, you will find you laugh at some of the situations and your empathy will be
given a good boost.

James shows off his show winning style with his patriotic snood at the Ronald McDonald house.Photo Courtesy of David Frei and Angles on a leash. Photo by Mary Bloom

Here is a fun anecdote from some of my experiences. I was at a nursing home with my big male Kuvasz. Bubba, CH Asgard LoFranco I Want It All CD TD NA, loved people. He was big, huggable and always a star. After doing a group session, one elderly lady told me Bubba reminded her very much of her last dog. She asked if I would come to her room to see a photo of that dog. So off we went. When we reached her room, she grabbed a framed photo off her nightstand and handed it to me. There was a very nice photo of a cute, black Toy Poodle. I was at a loss for a minute, and then quickly said, “Wow! I can see the resemblance, especially around the eyes!” She beamed and we left one very happy woman beaming at the picture of her beloved dog.