St. John's Ambulance Therapy Dog Program - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-06-2017, 03:23 PM Thread Starter
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St. John's Ambulance Therapy Dog Program

Hi There,

I am wondering if anyone has experience with the St. John's Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

I know the dogs have to be at least 2 years of age, and cannot be on a raw food diet, but I'm wondering what other pre-reqs and training are required?

Sitka is 7 months old now and enrolled in basic obedience training for another month or so. I'm wondering what sort of training I should enroll him in next.

I am particularly interested in using him in Stories 4 Paws, working with socially anxious people, and providing comfort to seniors and special needs individuals.

Sitka is very, very calm and the biggest cuddlebug I've met! It's not a normal GSD trait, I know, but once Sitka warms up to a person, he wants to be as close to, if not on top of, them as possible! His favorite is to lay lengthwise with his head on his person's chest/belly (think of spooning )

I think he would do very well as a one-on-one therapy/companion dog.

Does anyone have knowledge/experience with this sort of thing?

I am in Ontario, Canada so if anyone has experience here, even better!!

Just to be clear, I am not looking for him to be a fulltime service dog. Just a volunteer therapy dog for special circumstances, weekends, etc.

Thank you,

Ruth
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-06-2017, 03:36 PM
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My MIL enrolled her Border Collie x Blue Heeler as one. I don't recall the specifications other than what you've listed, but I can ask and see what she had to do to have her enrolled. This was in BC though.
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-06-2017, 03:39 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Femfa View Post
My MIL enrolled her Border Collie x Blue Heeler as one. I don't recall the specifications other than what you've listed, but I can ask and see what she had to do to have her enrolled. This was in BC though.

I would appreciate that!! I would imagine BC's requirements wouldn't be too different from Ontario.

Side note: Sitka is from BC He was bred on Vancouver Island.
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-06-2017, 08:40 PM
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They also must be current on all vaccines. Titres are not acceptable. Just had a friend "fired" because she won't do another rabies vaccine after almost loosing her dog to a reaction. Titred regularly through Hemopet, but still not good enough.
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-06-2017, 09:11 PM
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I was with SJA for eight years in York Region (Newmarket) with my own dog and then as an assistant coordinator doing supervised visits with new dog teams. Along with the age and diet requirements you mentioned the dogs must be owned by you for minimum 6 months if acquired as an adult and be tolerant and well-behaved around other dogs. The qualifications for a Canine Good Neighbour certificate are pretty close to the preliminary test that SJA does. Once the dog passes the test, the team must do 10 probationary visits, some with supervision. The handler must commit to a regular schedule of visiting in an assigned facility and be willing to take part in community events as well. We didn't demand OB certification but a loose-leash walk, and a good solid Down, Stay and Leave It are expected. For the reading programs, the dog had to be child-tested in a separate evaluation after a certain number of regular visiting hours (I think I recall it is 60 hours but could be wrong). Sitka's personality sounds promising. Do keep him working in OB and continue with other forms of training until you want to be evaluated for SJA. Evaluations are held several times a year so you might have to wait a bit after you apply. The handler also has to have a police criminal records check and provide a vet certificate of good health and vaccine status. If I've forgotten anything, feel free to ask!
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-06-2017, 10:21 PM Thread Starter
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I was with SJA for eight years in York Region (Newmarket) with my own dog and then as an assistant coordinator doing supervised visits with new dog teams. Along with the age and diet requirements you mentioned the dogs must be owned by you for minimum 6 months if acquired as an adult and be tolerant and well-behaved around other dogs. The qualifications for a Canine Good Neighbour certificate are pretty close to the preliminary test that SJA does. Once the dog passes the test, the team must do 10 probationary visits, some with supervision. The handler must commit to a regular schedule of visiting in an assigned facility and be willing to take part in community events as well. We didn't demand OB certification but a loose-leash walk, and a good solid Down, Stay and Leave It are expected. For the reading programs, the dog had to be child-tested in a separate evaluation after a certain number of regular visiting hours (I think I recall it is 60 hours but could be wrong). Sitka's personality sounds promising. Do keep him working in OB and continue with other forms of training until you want to be evaluated for SJA. Evaluations are held several times a year so you might have to wait a bit after you apply. The handler also has to have a police criminal records check and provide a vet certificate of good health and vaccine status. If I've forgotten anything, feel free to ask!
Wow! You are a wealth of information! It's contributors like you that keep me coming back here

I hadn't thought about the vaccines and police checks, but of course that makes sense and won't be a problem at all.

Sitka can be reactive to small dogs right now, so more training is a must. I plan to keep Sitka in obedience training for the next few years, and I've talked to his current trainer about therapy-specific training.

It's good to know about all the minimum requirements and testing. I think it will be a bit like having a second job. This makes me even more interested, though. It will be great experience for me, and I think very rewarding for Sitka.


As far as kids, Sitka has been around many children of all ages, 1 at a time as well as up to 8 children running around him. He has been around neurotypical children as well as multiple children and youth with special needs. He is very patient and perfectly content - especially if he is getting lots of hugs and back scratches. He can get a little more than 'licky' with sticky fingers, so more experience/training will be needed. Luckily he is not food driven or possessive in the least! He doesn't even go after food dropped in the kitchen! I tried to give him a carrot once and he would hardly look at it. Peanut butter? not a chance!

Thank you so much for your input! Do you have any contact information from your 8 years experience? If you have an email or phone number other than the generic website one, I would definitely appreciate a DM.

I will keep up with his training and hopefully in a few year's time he will be a great help!

What kind of therapy did you do with your dog?

Thanks again for all the input!
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-07-2017, 11:11 PM
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This page has the local contact information for London https://www.sja.ca/English/Customer-...ocation=London scroll down.
It is great that Sitka, at such a young age, can handle the excitement level of children and neurotypical behaviour as well. Do try to curb the tendency to be licky. Elderly patients with cognitive problems can't be relied on to wash hands after a dog visit and can have weak immune systems. One facility I visited had us carry hand sanitizer and clean each person's hands when we were finishing the visit. Kids can be pretty sketchy too about washing up. Low food drive is great since all kinds of stuff falls on the floor in Long Term Care facilities, anything from a two day old tuna sandwich to a dropped pill. LTCs are the usual places to start out but SJA in York Region also visits long term and palliative care units in hospitals, residential homes for special needs adults, special needs classrooms, the reading program as mentioned and used to do a bite prevention program in the public schools.
I was incorrect in one piece of info I mentioned, the dog has to be age 1 for testing, not 2. For a GSD I would wait a while longer since they mature later than some other breeds.
I visited the assisted living floor of a retirement home in my community with my old girl but stopped when she became ill with hemangiosarcoma and she passed not long after. We got a GSD puppy within a couple of months and his attitude toward people is fantastic but unfortunately he is quite leash reactive so a TD career was not in the cards for him. That was when I moved more into the administrative end of the program.
Do let me know how Sitka comes along in his training and if you do go the testing route, I would love to hear about it! Good luck!
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-08-2017, 12:14 PM
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I've had a few of my dogs in this program.
Two of them were regulars at the Oshawa General .

Another was Trust , the female that was TDX and then one of the first with the Urban
Tracking Dog Excellent title, among others.
I don't know where she visited.

And others.

I like when you said " Do try to curb the tendency to be licky"
It is so important to get the right temperamented dog , GSD dog, for the program.

Licky can reveal a dog with some anxiety .

The best GSD for the job calmly accept attention .
They do not drive for a response or attention.

the proper GSD temperament , that indifference , that tolerant acceptance , of stranger contact,
which feeds no drive -- is ideal and that is whether you have therapeutic use of the dog in all its categories
or a law enforcement dog which is able to do public relations in addition to full fledged apprehension .
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-08-2017, 01:55 PM
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I've heard this so many times ---- people have a super-friendly pup who gets all wiggly and excited , strains at the leash to go meet and greet every person they see - yes a GSD --- and they think , golly, this would be an excellent therapy dog

well , not exactly . That dog is too needy . The "job" would be stressful .

the ideal dog doesn't care --- he is a catalyst in a situation .

he doesn't loose his head -- the reward does not come from the contact , it comes from the handler .

obedience is a must . Obviously environmental soundness is a must . Recognizing when the dog has had enough is a must .

not feeling slighted when someone does not want to see your dog , is a must -

at one extended care for facility I saw a lady come in regularly with a little sheltie and she was totally oblivious to the dogs stress .
Just in the foyer , the dog was already lip flicking like crazy. It looked beat - exhausted.
There was a person in a wheel chair being visited by family members , enjoying the company and the sunshine -- and along comes this person , lifting the dog so that the dog was more or less at eye level with the patient who very very clearly did not want to be visited by the dog .
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Last edited by carmspack; 10-08-2017 at 02:00 PM.
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-11-2017, 03:44 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you for the input everyone!

I will certainly keep updating on Sitka's training as it progresses. He is half-way through his first obedience training now.

I really appreciate everyone's input that not all dogs are the right temperament for therapy. I'm not experienced in this at all, and so I'm open to all input.

I don't know if Sitka is the right temperament, and I know that as training progresses and his personality comes out, it may become apparent that he is not suited.

For now, I just know that he is not food reactive. He is happiest when laying with his head or paws on someone's lap. He stays very calm when children and adults are running around. And he always looks to hear my command 'go say hi/hello' before approaching strangers.

Thanks everyone!
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