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  • Writer's pictureKaren Onail

Is it Magic?

As we wrapped up spring certification and are gearing up for our fall session, it gives myself and our team of trainers a time to reflect.

On week one, our potential teams come in with a bit of hesitation, unsure if they will make the cut, or if their beloved four legged friends will make it through the 10 weeks of intense training. They are nervous, the dogs are nervous and to be honest so are we! We are nervous because we want every dog and person to succeed, to ensure we teach them the skills and give them the knowledge they need, to reach that certification goal, to go into the world and make it a better place if only for a few minutes at a time.

We go through week 1 formalities, introductions and sharing why we are all there. I love to hear the stories of what brought them to this point in the journey. I make mental notes of each person and each dogs initial reactions, weaknesses and strengths. I watch the humans nervously and awkwardly, try to get their dogs to sit, down and walk nicely on a leash. This is not easy with a room full of fresh new canine friends, new people, new smells, new energy. I listen to the pleas, "I swear my dog can do this!", " I don't understand why Fido isn't listening", "But at home......".

As the weeks progress and we work hard with each potential team not only in class but outside of class if necessary, because we have a golden rule, NO ONE FAILS. We think out of the box, we explain ways of getting around that head shy dog, that dog that isn't comfortable with someone hoovering over it to get a pet, that young dog who has the energy of 1,000 rechargeable batteries. We give each person, ideas, suggestions and solutions, goals to work on for the following week.

I and our amazing team of trainers and assistants, continue to encourage our human parts of the teams. I see some tears and frustration, I feel their "I'm not gonna make it" vibes, the what if my dog can't learn this?. We walk them through that and get them back on track. And suddenly by week four the magic starts to show! The dogs and humans are settling in, dogs are responding, they are opening up and being the amazing creatures they are. They are walking in the door happy, tails are wagging, the humans are laughing, excited to share what they have accomplished during the week. They have a new excitement about them, aahhh the magic!

They begin building a new bond, a deeper bond with one another. The team is truly becoming one. Building trust, working towards the goal, to make the world a better place. Ahhhh the magic of a dog!

It's time to start gearing them up and preparing for field training visits! Oh no!!! the nerves and awkwardness, the doubt and hesitation starts setting in again. Sigh. We schedule our visits in small groups scheduling 4-5 teams in a time slot, we make sure we have 3-4 experienced handlers on site during the visits to help our potential teams through those training visits. I hear it, I feel it, the what if's. What if my dog makes a mistake? What if my dog doesn't want to visit? What if my dog ....... and then we visit. I watch them all gather, I watch them come in the doors with weak smiles, doubtful eyes, and then it happens..... The MAGIC. It usually starts with the staff, they basically run to the dogs, many of them sit on the floor just to love on the dog, you can see them relax, tension leave from their stressful, hectic days. Dogs respond in such a way that only a dog can, with MAGICAL powers of understanding, compassion, gentleness, lovin and soaking up the attention. Now on to patients and or residence. They enter a room full of lonely people , they spot the dogs...... and the MAGIC explodes!! Smiles ear to ear, laughter, phones snapping pictures, giggles, conversation, which closes generational gaps..... MAGIC.

The handlers change, they relax, they smile , they laugh, they have a huge bucket of pride and accomplishment in their eyes. The Magic that transpires between the dog and the recipient has them captivated. A new excitement radiates from them. They have learned that the dogs do not need to learn to visit, it comes naturally, a dog is Magic, purity, comfort. They can't wait until the next training visit, they are begging now for graduation, for the formal vesting, so they can get busy creating more MAGIC.

And finally, week 11, Graduation. Everyone is excited, they are talking about "starting" the therapy dog journey. Creating the Magic in a variety of capacities. What they do not realize, is that the MAGIC truly began the second they made the choice to share their beloved pets with those who need a bit of MAGIC in their lives.

Are you ready to create MAGIC?

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