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Foster Friday: From Shelter to Therapy

Last weekend, I took the Canine Good Citizen test with my dog Henry. To read about the CGC test, please refer to Wednesday’s blog post. Henry is one of the best dogs I have ever known. He is the ultimate Canine Good Citizen because he is in fact just a 76-pound teddy bear. So you can understand my shock when Henry didn’t pass!

Henry came into my life through the Angel City Pit Bulls foster program. He stole my heart and I knew he would inevitably become my dog. When I officially adopted Henry I did so with the intention of making him a therapy dog. His large size is often intimidating to people, but his gentle demeanor wins them over immediately. People often cross the street or pull their children closer when we pass, but I don’t take offense. I love when this happens - it is what we teachers refer to as a “teachable moment.” I usually say, “He’s very sweet. Would you like to meet him?” I follow this with a perfectly timed “Sit” which Henry obliges, and eventually we win over the scared mother, father, grandmother, etc.

I realize that as a pit bull owner, I am going to face many prejudices about my dog. That is fine with me; I will shatter them at every turn. I also realize that it is my responsibility to go above and beyond the norm to assure that my dog is a good citizen. It’s up to me to show the world how Henry is an ambassador of his breed.

He has a very important job. I know it, and he knows it. So, in taking this test we are preparing for an even more important test. We are preparing for his life’s work.

Henry and I took the CGC test at Zoom Room Hollywood after we completed Obedience 2 with Laura London. All was going well until around the 7th test item when Henry began to lose interest. His loose leash walking was passable, but not amazing. His supervised separation was good, but not great. And then came the reaction to a neutral dog. As soon as Henry saw the other dog - and I saw that “I can’t wait to meet you, let’s play!” look in his eye - I knew it was over. Needless to say, Henry’s excitement over the other dog was a bit too much for CGC standards. Henry failed the test.

I am ashamed to admit it now, but I was mad. I felt that Henry let me down. I had done all of this work, and for what? And then I thought about it. He is a dog. Looking back, I realize it wasn’t Henry that let me down. He didn’t fail me - I failed him. I had not prepared Henry appropriately. I tried to teach him just to pass the test, instead of preparing him to become a “Good Citizen”.

As I reflect upon this experience I clearly see my mistake. I had become so focused on the test that I missed our entire journey together. I focused on the thing we got wrong as opposed to everything we did right. I had lost track of how far we had come as a team.

Will we take the CGC again? Yes. Absolutely. Will we pass? I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that when we do pass, we both will have earned it.

Stay tuned for more blogs regarding Henry’s journey to becoming a therapy dog.

Director of Education
Foster Coordinator