We often hear that Pyrs need a job to do. The traditional role of livestock guardian dog doesn’t suit most people’s situations today, especially now since many dogs are acquired to be companion animals. New owners are frequently advised to “give their dog a job to do, any job, even if it’s walking down to the mailbox with you every day.” This is good advice and as it turns out, there is a job that doesn’t require farmland or chickens that some Great Pyrenees are suited to. Great Pyrenees are being used with great success as therapy dogs in hospitals and nursing homes. Their calm placid demeanor is well-suited to strolling the corridors and their height—well, it is just right for a pat on the head by anyone in a wheelchair. These sometimes ferocious guardians of home and hearth become understanding angels in situations when their often-displayed precognition kicks in to comfort those who need them.
The positive effects of meeting with a therapy dog have been documented. Petting, touching and talking with animals can lower blood pressure, relieve stress and ease depression. Our dogs do these things for us every day, so it’s no surprise these qualities can positively impact others when they are shared.
Therapy dogs are sometimes confused with service dogs who are taught to perform specific tasks for their owners. The role of therapy dogs is give an emotional boost to wide range of people they meet with in nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities.
Sometimes there is a particular dog who embodies all the qualities needed for a good therapy dog. Zavya, who lives in New Hampshire, is such a dog. Her owner, Carol Zablocki, estimates that Zavya made 630 visits during her 9-year therapy dog career helping thousands of people have a better day. Zavya retired this spring as her arthritis progressed and at 11 years old, she is now sticking close to home.
Zavya was acquired at six months old from an unfortunate situation. Carol says “When we got her, she didn’t have a name, had never walked on grass. She didn’t know how to do stairs, didn’t walk on a leash, hated riding in cars—and was not housebroken. It took her about a year to trust us.”
Zavya came a long way to first assuming, then shining in her role as a therapy dog. There are several steps for dogs to take before acquiring therapy certification. A good first step is passing the ten steps in the Canine Good Citizenship test, which can be a challenge for many Pyrs. Sometimes independent-minded Pyrs need special training, especially to achieve item #7, the critical command, “Come.” To see all ten items in the test click here.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends these steps for anyone who wants to start their dog on the path to qualifying as a therapy dog: socialize your dog well, pass the Canine Good Citizen test, take a therapy dog training class, register with a national therapy dog organization. We list a few of these organizations here. Carol has had a good relationship with “Therapy Dogs International” and recommends them highly.
This therapy dogs page on the AKC website may be helpful to anyone interested in getting started on this very worthwhile journey with their dog.