Do doodles make good “therapy” dogs?
Do I need to apologise at the start of this page because I know people are going to get hurt feelings that I’m going to explain a complicated truth rather than let a simple lie continue?
I would probably be avoiding this subject all together, but after a recent phone call, and several phone calls over the last 20 years, I’m going to put in in writing.
In short, I think if you have a “legitimate” program, with extremely well trained people, who seek the best of the best, with only a small number of dogs finally being able to attain the status, yes, any breed can be made into a “therapy” dog – but only a very small number that will end up being suitable. (note: I may need to change this because I am not sure that Belgian Malanois or some of the Livestock Guardian Dogs particularly the more primitive breeds could ever be suitable for this type of dog – the former do make awesome police dogs when highly trained and properly selected, and the latter breed are great for guarding livestock, although there is a pretty high failure rate.)
I have seen over the years a large number of people wanting to change their current career path and start breeding “therapy” dogs. I’m sure most (but definitely not all) of them have a genuine interest at heart, but I fear from what I’ve personally seen and heard from such people, that there is a definite lack of skill, knowledge, and critical evaluation skills needed, and that’s before we even get to dog knowledge, which at best, seems mediocre. They do, however, seem to have excellent marketing skills. And if you’ve seen a newly created breed (usually by breeding together a variety of different breeds) that people are trying to well, let’s say “legitimise”, what better way to try to attain such by saying “this breed is specifically bred to be a therapy dog.” That’s called marketing folks. And if you only have a smidgen of dog knowledge, you’ll know that this is only possible by using UFD (that’s Unicorn Fairy Dust for those that aren’t currently using such) blown in from Narnia.
The people that are most hurt by this lack of skill and knowledge by these breeders, are the most vulnerable, not to mention those dogs that are clearly unsuited to this role.
I’ve seen dodgy AF groups & individuals get “tax-free” status as they set up their dodgy organisations, that really should never ever be in operation, and that the owners have the gall to lie to people that really do need legitimate help.
“So Jane, I’m actually not going to keep the dog myself, I’m going to look for homes to raise the dogs as a starting point.”
“So Dave, you have little dog experience, and you’re wanting me to give you a dog that you can then give to someone else, who has even less knowledge and skills than you, to raise as a therapy/service dog, that you can then get some good will organisation to hand over to you $20-30k for? You don’t currently have such homes selected, nor a selection process, nor any idea how this is going to work, but you want me to give you a dog? And you reckon the government is going to give you a bunch of money to get this up off the ground?”
It is extremely difficult to breed successful therapy dogs. And frankly, I am disgusted that people are claiming that whole litters of their pups, that apparently they start training from “4 days of age” (complete nonsense) will go on to be therapy/service dogs.
Yet again, I was recently approached by a “doodle” breeder who was after one of my dogs to join her therapy dog program. She hinted broadly that she expected it for free “over 90% of the dogs we get are given to us for free.” (let’s just hold this up for a minute: if you’re an experienced therapy dog breeder, there is no such thing as a free dog. But you’re now taking “free” dogs into your program and with your magic wand you’ll change them into therapy dogs. Frankly, I’ve got far better chance of training my toy poodles to be sheep herding dogs.)
And whilst there is a very small number of Portuguese Water Dogs that have become therapy/service dogs, there are a far greater number that are failed therapy/service dogs.
I was very clear: “there is a specific temperament type you need as a starting point for a therapy dog. I do not breed for that.”
This did not deter her. “Do you think this breed is intuitive?”
“Do you think this dog can instinctively pick up that someone has low blood sugar?”
Well definitely not. This is a trained skill, and is associated by scent. And you should know that, and the fact that you are even asking this questions means you have no idea on what you are doing.
If I have to tell this to someone who apparently has spent years training dogs to pick up on low blood sugar, then there is something wrong. Very wrong.
“Do you think this dog can pick up instinctively if someone is about to have an epileptic fit?”
well at this point, I was about to have a fit, let me tell you. “again this is a scent based skill that needs to be trained.” Yet again, no legitimate service dog trainer would ask this question. And those legitimate trainers who are reading this are shaking their heads. Yep you’ve seen these scam artists too often yourselves.
Seriously, why would someone who is supposed to already know this stuff ask me?
I’ll tell you why:
1. because they clearly have no idea what is required to train a service/therapy dog
2. because they want to be able to mis-represent the breed as having some non-existent magical talents
3. they like the idea of breeding “therapy dogs” perhaps because it gives them some standing in the community, and/or it’s a revenue raising scheme (heck everyone has to make a living)
4. they actually don’t want to train the dogs
This is from a person who is already breeding doodle dogs.
It has taken me over 20 years of working with Portuguese Water Dogs to have a good grasp of what they can do. But all of a sudden, someone who could at best be described as a “novice” despite what public persona she represents, wants to now breed Portuguese Water Dogs as service/therapy dogs.
“So you don’t think this breed would make a good therapy dog?”
No, I said.
She seemed to accept that, but of course, 5 minutes later was on the phone to try to get a pup from another breeder. Yes we talk folks.
Furthermore, if you are trying to create a new breed, by combining 20 different breeds into one dog (don’t get me started, but I hope you haven’t been dragged into this), how the hell do you magically get a therapy/service dog out of this. And what advantage would you get if you brought in a tough as guts working dog into this mix?
When asked if she intended to cross breed the Portuguese Water Dog, the response was “definitely not. I do not believe in cross breeding. Except if it is to improve the breed.”
You already have little concept of what you are doing, and you think you can take this energetic, working breed, that has been bred to work off fishing boats in the cold Atlantic Ocean, and then combine it with some “interestingly” bred doodles and “improve” my breed and magically create a “therapy” dog.
Well folks, you know already I’m guessing what I think.
If you want a doodle breed, I have no problem with it. Each to his/her own. I’ve met as many lovely doodle dogs as what I’ve met on the other end of the spectrum. I still don’t understand why you’d want to pay twice the price for a dog that tends to be 90-95% poodle, but there you go. That being said, I’m yet to meet a doodle dog that I believed was suitable as a therapy dog with their hugely energetic nature. In fact one doodle “therapy dog trainer” told me that her dog required a walk of 10-15km a day. Well I have to tell you this, I’m a marathon runner and I don’t do that many km’s in a week when I’m in full training mode. And I’d hardly call a dog made up with a multitude of breeds (is it 20 yet?) that needs 10-15km a day exercise a “family dog” let alone say that was a suitable breed for a “therapy” dog. And I reckon 99% of people who needed a therapy/service dog would be shocked to find out that the breed someone is trying to sell them as an all round great dog with magical therapy abilities needs that much exercise (and that’s before we look at the grooming side of things).
I object strongly, as I’m sure do most people, to the vulnerable in our society being taken for a ride, and being told that this breed, or any breed or cross breed, has some sort of magical powers that allows them to be a natural service dog. They don’t. End of story.
And that’s before we even look at the reality that most people who want service dogs do not want grooming issues, which means they don’t want doodles (shedding or otherwise) or other legitimate non shedding breeds such as the poodle, bichon, Portuguese Water Dog etc.
Therapy/service dogs are highly trained dogs with only a small percentage making it through. Yes you will find a one in a million dog that hasn’t been trained but can naturally pick up on things. But like I say – one in a million. I don’t breed them. I haven’t bred enough dogs to find even one.
And one final tip: for god’s sake, if you own a doodle, can you get it groomed! Like now. There are far too many doodle breeders saying the dog only needs to be groomed once a year. This is why when you have a doodle you get charged so much for grooming. Because generally any dog that only gets shaved off once a year and never brushed, is going to object greatly to meeting any groomer. And groomers are going to charge you through the nose to deal with a dog that displays a bunch of understandably bad behaviours as a result. How many times have I heard, “but the breeder said they never have to be groomed!”
So if you want to breed therapy dogs, good for you. Don’t contact me. I will not sell you a dog. Ever. You may be able to kid yourself and maybe even other people that you have a great program going on. I am not prepared to waste my time telling you how this breed will not work, and certainly will not allow my dogs to be cross bred into your program.
I will also not sell you a dog to become a therapy dog for your other dog who has problems, your child who needs a therapy dog but you can’t afford to buy one so you reckon you can train it yourself, or for your blind dog that needs a service dog and you reckon my dog without any training will be able to naturally become a service dog for your dog. Yes, I have been asked for such and more.
And if you are some sort of therapist, can you do me a favour, and not suggest to someone that they get their kid a Portuguese Water Dog because the kid doesn’t like dogs and you all reckon this would be a good way to rid your kid of a fear of dogs. FFS.
I am happy to breed therapy dogs straight after my unicorn breeding program shows results.