She’s cute, lovable, and good with people but does your pooch have what it takes to be a therapy dog?
According to Joana Watsky, owner of Sit and Stay Dog Training and Behavioral Counseling and a dog trainer and behavioral counselor for more than 16 years, a good therapy dog must also possess an even temperament around other dogs, and within a hospital setting with its bright lights, health-related equipment, and distractions such as loud noises and sudden movements. Besides being good with people, she said, an understanding of basic commands such as “sit” and “stay” is imperative.
Although many facilities primarily use Labrador and Golden Retrievers as therapy dogs, Watsky said that the breed is not as important as the dog’s temperament and willingness to follow commands.
Watsky, who has introduced therapy dog programs to several nursing homes, hospitals and schools throughout Northern New Jersey, offers classes in Nutley and Hoboken and employs a method called Positive Reinforcement Training. “With this method, the trainer focuses on rewarding good behavior, the proper response to a stimulus or command, instead of focusing on punishing misbehavior,” she said.
She started her dog training career as an apprentice to the director of training at the national office of the ASPCA in New York City. Watsky has also worked with several veterinarians to help them train their dogs, and consults with and is recommended by many veterinarians throughout northern New Jersey.
Watsky has also had several dogs attend classes for future work with Northstar Dogs, a non-profit organization that places service dogs with children whose challenges range from autism to serious medical conditions to grief over the loss of a parent. She is also a certified evaluator and volunteer for Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc., a non-profit organization that evaluates, tests, recommends trainers, and qualifies therapy dogs for the purpose of giving support in nursing homes, hospitals, psychiatric wards and other facilities.
Watsky and her dog, Maya, were frequent visitors to various health care facilities and schools for more than six years. Maya received an Animal Hall of Fame Award for Therapy Efforts Given in Relation to September 11, 2001.