FOUR-LEGGED THERAPISTS | VIP Dog Teams trains dogs in therapy centers – VC Reporter


Pictured: Volunteers with some of the therapy / installation dogs trained by the VIP canine teams. Photo submitted.

by Kimberly Rivers
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Remember those historic photographs of Dalmatian dogs sitting on top of fire trucks, serving as mascots for fire stations? Well, besides being a great community ambassador, dogs provide great comfort to people of all ages working in difficult and stressful situations.

More and more researchers are finding scientific evidence for what those who spend their lives with dogs (and other animals, too) already know: They help bring about a sense of calm and happiness.

A local organization is working to bring more dogs to these environments to help children and adults.

Mitch, a Goldendoodle with his teacher Melissa Kasso, a school counselor at Rancho Rosal Elementary School in Camarillo. Photo submitted.

VIP Dog Teams is a Camarillo-based non-profit organization with a mission to promote the human-animal bond that transforms lives and leads to healing by fostering positive interactions with therapy dogs and service dogs. Nancy Mitchell, president and head trainer, says the organization is currently actively seeking out community members interested in becoming dog handlers to bring a specially trained therapy / facility dog ​​to their workplace.

“VIP canine teams would love to place a therapy / school dog in any school that sees the healing power of a dog,” she said. Dogs are usually placed with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists as well as firefighters. Ideally, there would be two co-managers working together.

Professional puppies

Mitchell, who lives in Camarillo, is a registered nurse and teaches at California State University, Channel Islands. She has been training dogs for six years and is certified by the American Kennel Club as a Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) Evaluator. She founded VIP Dog Teams in 2016, “after struggling to find a service dog for my own son with special needs. I ended up training a dog for him and we decided that a therapy dog ​​would be better for him.

During therapy work, with her son as a dog handler, “I saw the joy and happiness the dog brought to the students and the confidence that a therapy dog ​​trained during visits would bring to my son. I wanted to do it for more people so I started VIP Dog Teams. . . I am a registered nurse, pediatric nurse. . . so babies and puppies, what could be better?

Mitch walks around Rancho Rosal Elementary School. Photo submitted.

A certified therapy dog ​​is usually their master’s personal pet, taking the dog to places where they can comfort or support those in need. The work is not limited to people with recognized disabilities. Dogs generally undergo basic obedience training, and it is recommended that they take a therapy preparation course to assess their obedience and temperament, making sure the dog is well suited for this type of work. . Once a handler and a dog pass a therapy dog ​​test, they can be registered with an agency offering therapy dog ​​services.

Supplemental Training for Installation Dogs is designed to prepare the dog to help professionals in their workplace achieve the goals with those the dog handler serves. Teachers, therapists, medical providers, and first responders are usually the ones who would partner with a service dog to help people. In physiotherapy situations, for example, a dog can help motivate the patient to pick up a ball to play with the dog, or to throw a ball further. The dog is part of the therapy to help achieve therapy goals.

Likewise, in a school setting, dogs can encourage students in new ways. Sometimes a nonverbal student may want to talk about the dog, or playing with the dog becomes a way of socializing with his peers. Just being calmed down by the presence of a dog like Mitch, a Goldendoodle with VIP Dog Team, makes it easier for some students to focus on classroom tasks and activities.

A drawing of Mitch by a young artist at Rancho Rosal Elementary School in Camarillo.

Make the note

The puppies taken into account by the VIP dog teams are closely observed from birth.

“We love the social butterfly puppy. . . We are looking for the overall temperament. We test at seven weeks because the puppies can have a fear period at eight weeks and we usually send the puppies to their new home at eight weeks.

She said the puppies are tested for more than 10 different traits.

“The big three seem to be recovering, [it] shows a dog’s willingness to please you and to work with you. Quick recovery after surprising experiences. Mitchell explained that dogs will be placed in a variety of situations and “need to be comfortable and enjoy interacting. And finally, but this is very important, social attraction: does the puppy like to be touched and to give attention?

As a puppy, Mitch lived with a family of puppy breeders who agreed to “take care of raising and training a puppy at home, knowing that they would release him around one and a half to go to work. “.

The Millers were Mitch’s family; members attended training sessions with VIP dog teams each week and Mitch’s training progressed.

Mitch turns two in January and has been training since he was eight weeks old. He underwent a temperament test at seven weeks and showed desirable traits. He has successfully completed his puppy lessons, CGC standard and advanced levels, and a therapy preparation course with the Millers.

In June, when he was one and a half years old, he went to live with his teacher, Melissa Kasso, a school counselor at Rancho Rosal Elementary School in Camarillo. Mitch had two months to settle in and build trust with his new master before further training work.

Mitch had to pass all the same levels he had already taken with the Millers with his new manager before moving on to advanced training and testing.

With all of this training and testing under his collar, Mitch began his new job as a therapy / school dog in Rancho Rosal.

Mitchell said that “the use of canine assistants in schools for mental health is becoming more prevalent” as the benefits of therapy / facility dogs on campus become evident. They seem to give students and staff morale a big boost.

“Mitch is so popular at this school that the teachers email the school counselor and book him. He goes to every class that has asked for him.

At work

Research, including a study done at Yale University, has demonstrated the cognitive, physiological, and emotional benefits dogs can have on people of all ages.

But one hurdle the organization is working to overcome is finding puppy breeders.

“We have a very limited number of people willing to raise puppies,” confirmed Mitchell.

VIP Dog Teams are looking for responsible people in the community who would be willing to take on the task of raising an eight week to one and a half year old puppy and commit to all the necessary training along the way with the understanding that the dog will end up living with his master.

The organization is also “functional breeding” for special traits required by therapy dogs. Mitchell explained that they are selecting a “very special therapy dog ​​mom”, who is being bred with a “therapy / institution dog sire to produce potential therapy / work institution puppies”.

A recent litter born as part of the functional breeding program of VIP Dog Teams. Photo submitted.

Recently a litter of puppies have been born and are likely to have the traits needed for this specialized job.

Before VIP began breeding proven therapy / installation dogs, the group rescued “very carefully tested dogs” from the Ventura County Animals Services shelter in Camarillo. The dogs were placed with inmates at Todd Road Prison in Santa Paula for a training program. Four dogs were trained every six months and 16 dogs graduated from the program.

“We ran the program for two years and had an 80% success rate,” Mitchell said. “These dogs have been adopted by the public and most are in encounter therapy in our community.”

The organization also runs two programs at the Camarillo Boys and Girls Club for teens and young children. Therapy dogs help teens explore various themes such as trust, teamwork, communication, and leadership, with each teenager handling a dog during the session. For younger children, dogs help them practice reading high-frequency words through games and one-on-one.

Dogs rarely pass judgment when a child makes a mistake, and often students are more comfortable taking risks and trying things out when working with dogs than they would be when they are. work with teachers. Volunteers bring their dogs to these sessions to play sight word games. Children show considerable retention following the sessions with the dogs, compared to the pre-session assessment.

Currently, VIP Dog Teams is “focused on facility and goal oriented therapy dogs.” We train about four dogs per year. With functional breeding for the desired traits, Mitchell added that “we can train even more dogs. We need to find people who are willing to use these dogs for installation and / or therapy work and who have the time and effort to train with us. I feel like the general public just doesn’t know we’re here, but we are and want to work with those who are interested in the healing power of a dog.


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