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Therapy Dog Training

Paw on the Heart – Lou, the Finnish Lapphund Becomes a Therapy Companion Dog

Lou, the little Finnish Lapphund, has been sweetening the lives of patients in the geriatric ward since the end of June 2022. She was born at the end of March and has been living with Linda-Maria Vietz in North Hesse since the beginning of June together with therapy dog Alaska and Itchy.

In this special article, we and Mrs Vietz report on the Lou’s early days, she is being trained as a therapy companion dog, and her integration into the therapy work with the "Paw on the Heart" pack.

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Naturavetal® Info

Therapy dog Alaska

In our special article "Paw on the heart - we get to know Alaska, the therapy dog from the Naturavetal® family" you can find out more about the work of therapy dog Alaska.

Therapy Assistance Dog Lou moves in - the familiarisation phase

Lou and her new pack were brought together in a fenced-in garden. There, all the dogs had plenty of space to run around and sniff each other. In the first week, Alaska, the experienced therapy dog, was still unsure how she would accept Lou, as she was a little bundle of energy entering into the pack. But by the second week, the two were inseparable. They shared a basket and played in the garden until they were tired. All the dogs were fed together.

The adult dogs get two meals a day, morning and evening, and Lou learns from day one that the food bowl is released by Mrs Vietz. This means that, like Alaska and Itchy, she has to wait until she is given the "munch" command before she is allowed to eat. Lou also receives an additional meal at lunchtime during puppyhood in the form of treats from the food bag. For the first 14 days, the pack enjoyed a holiday bonding together until the Lou the Finnish Lapphund went to work at the hospital for the first time.

Naturavetal® Info

The Finnish Lapphund

The Finnish Lapphund is considered to be a people-oriented, sociable and peaceful dog they enjoy working with people, they take great pleasure in learning and radiate calm and composure. Its friendly, open-minded nature, its intelligence and helpfulness as well as its independence makes it a very special family dog that stands faithfully and courageously by its family in every situation.

Lou the Finnish Lapphund getting to know her future job as a therapy companion dog

In her first week at work, Lou only got to know the office routine, her colleagues and her box and blanket as a place of retreat. Like Alaska, Lou will complete her therapy dog training at M.I.T.T.T. in Rheine. The test can be taken at 18 months and until then she will be busy gaining experience.

The little puppy happily accompanies Mrs Vietz to the ward, as she soon realises that there are plenty of treats and lots of cuddles. The Finnish Lapphund learns to take treats from the spoon if a patient doesn't want to be fed from the hand, she learns to sit or lie in an elevated position to be brushed or stroked. She gradually learns various tricks, such as retrieving, but above all she learns to remain calm and composed in every situation.

What qualities characterise a good therapy assistance dog? 

Lou already has great character traits. She is very curious, not timid and has a very strong will - which are typical traits of the Finnish Lapphund. She is calm, composed and has a strong character and loves to observe things. She is open and happy to interact with everyone, including children.

The qualities that are important for a therapy dog also depend on the area in which the dog will later work. Every therapy dog has its strengths and, weaknesses, but can still be excellent at its job. Not every therapy dog is suitable for every client. Of course, all therapy dogs are carefully prepared and trained for its work, but not every therapy dog can or wants to be used everywhere. The experienced Alaska, for example, prefers to work with patients (retrieving, tricks, ...), but doesn't like being stroked for long periods of time. She prefers to be active at work and really enjoys it and is enthusiastic about it. Lou, on the other hand, can be cuddled and stroked for hours, she really enjoys this form of attention.

For a successful partnership, it is very important that not only the human but also the dog enjoys the work. It is therefore very important that the handler knows their dog well so that they can individually asses each situation to get the best results.

Finnish Lapphund in training. Learning in leisure time too

Lou also gets plenty of training at home. Lou the Finnish Lapphund loves to work, she is super attentive and learns very quickly. But her favourite thing to do is clicker training. She learnt her first trick, giving her paw, in a very short time.

However, many more tricks and tasks will follow, such as sleeping (e.g. for bedridden patients), retrieving balls, food bags etc., pulling objects such as socks and pulls. In companion dog training, as with any other dog, it is important to use opportunities in everyday life to keep the dog mentally occupied.

The "Sleeping" task, for example, involves Lou lying quietly on her side. This makes it easy to place her on a bed. Patients can either actively stroke her or, if this is not possible (e.g. in a vegetative state), passively feel her closeness and warmth. Lou, the Finnish Lapphund therefore keeps them company and must be able to lie still for a while.

Lou will also learn, for example, to pull on or take off socks and to pull on other objects (e.g. ribbons hanging on cupboard doors to open them). She will get to know different working materials (for example the pegboard, the dice or dice to play Ludo or the catapult (here a treat is thrown by touching it, which can be caught by the dog, dog or human can operate the catapult).

Goals of therapy assistance dog work in geriatrics 

Benefits for geriatrics and patients of advanced age with typical age-related illnesses.

At work, an animal with the right character can make a valuable contribution to helping patients. At the same time, the dog itself also has fun, its day is full of high-quality tasks that keep it mentally and physically busy.

A therapy assistance dog can be used in various areas or for various tasks in geriatrics:

  • Communication - great conversations develop quickly, the dog acts as an ice-breaker
  • Fine motor skills - Improve dexterity
  • Gross motor skills - e.g. bowling, aiming balls, assessing strength
  • Memory training, retention
  • Endurance training
  • Power metering (throwing and hitting objects)
  • Coordination training
  • Behavioural abnormalities (e.g. very restless or even aggressive patients)

Training to become a therapy assistance dog 

Lou. the Finnish Lapphund currently has a therapy session once a week. Everything is organised in a playful and non-coercive way. Before each therapy session, it is explained to the patients that Lou is still a young dog and that she still has to learn everything. They are all very pleased, says Mrs Vietz, that they can help with the training and that Lou can associate everything positively.

Alaska is an old hand at therapy. She has been visiting the geriatric ward and occasionally a hospice for many years. The encounters are a wonderful experience for the patients, but also the dogs are always delighted to be welcomed with so much love at work.

The Paw on the Heart pack works hand in hand with an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. They select one or two patients or small groups in which the animals can help, the goals of the therapy are agreed and the therapy units are carefully organised in advance. While occupational therapy is more about exercises for gross and fine motor skills, strength training, coordination training and memory training, speech therapy is about forms of communication. 

Patients tell stories from their past and talk about their everyday lives, they sing and great conversations can ensue when the dog acts as an "ice-breaker". Patients who are usually very quiet and don't talk much suddenly start talking about their experiences with dogs. Many older patients used to have dogs themselves and enjoy talking about them, which not only promotes communication but also trains the memory.

Natural feeding for the Lou the Finnish Lapphund 

A healthy and balanced diet is very important for therapy dogs like Alaska and Lou, so we asked Mrs Vietz what her experience is with our food after so many years and which training treats she likes to use for work:

"I have been feeding Naturavetal's Dry Food for over 10 years. All my dogs tolerate it really well and you can combine the Dry Food and the Complete Tinned Meals really well. As we can only use dry treats in the therapy sessions, we like to feed the "starry fish treats". They are not only colourful, but they also have a great shape and size. The dogs don't have to chew them for ages and they taste great. We also use the normal Dry Food too."

Canis Plus® Starry Fish Treats

With the varied mini treats consisting of three different types of fish, every exercise is easy. In addition to the valuable fish content, spelt flour and salmon oil ensure a particularly healthy baking mix that even sensitive dogs can digest very well. The little stars are the perfect companion for every training session or for long walks.

Pfote aufs Herz

You can follow the "Paw on the Heart" therapy pack story on her Facebook page.

You can find Lou on Instagram under "lappi_lou". 

We always find the work that brings people and dogs together in this way fascinating and are very happy to have been able to accompany and support Alaska over the years and now also with Lou.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by phone. We are here to help you with comprehensive advice. You can reach us Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. by phone at 020 8531 7804 or mail info@naturavetal.co.uk.

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