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.

28 replies on “Therapists of the Four-Legged Variety”

  1. Joanna is wonderful. My daughter and I took our two puppies to her Beginner and Advanced Training courses. As first-time dog owners, Joanna had her hands full (more with us than the puppies!), but she was always patient and kind. Almost a year after finishing the last course, she still takes my calls (!) anytime I have a doggie behavioral question and reassures me in her calm voice that it’s all going to be ok. I can’t recommend her highly enough.

  2. We had a mini-Schnauzer 20+ years ago, and we used to bring him to visit my great aunt in her nursing home. Back then I saw the difference animals could make in the lives of people in nursing homes and hospitals. Aunt Annie was delighted to see Mazel and he soon had a crowd around him. Each face was light up with smiles, people spoke about their beloved pets from the past or just commented on how cute and well-behaved he was. We were always encouraged by the staff to bring him back. One day we brought my sister’s dog, George, also and everybody on Aunt Annie’s floor came to see and laugh and smile. They were just two very sedate, well-behaved and loveable animals who accepted the hugs and pets and kisses from the residents. When we left, there was always smiles and laughter.

  3. This clearly belongs in the Now We’ve Heard Everything Dept.
    I would be interested, however, in having regular sessions with a therapy dog trained in Freudian psychoanalysis.

  4. You’ve never heard of therapy pets, Walleroo? The concept has been around for about 25-30 years. In addition to the psychological benefits, pets are often used in therapy sessions for stroke patients who have lost the partial use of an arm, for example. The human therapist tries to get the patient to interact with the pet with their affected arm, thereby strengthening it.
    Therapy pets are also used in psychiatric hospitals where patients who are non-responsive to humans interact with the animals.

  5. A friend of mine was in Kessler in Saddle Brook after suffering a small stroke. Having a therapy dog on the premises truly brightened my friend’s spirits. Animals can truly bring laughter and smiles.

  6. Joana is a brilliant and gifted dog trainer. As a therapist, I can attest to the pivotal role that dogs play in some forms of treatment. In fact, I am currently working with Joana to train my own dog. She should be applauded for the work that she does. Her incredible skill and knowledge changes the lives of both the dogs that she trains, and the humans that love them.

  7. Honestly, I can’t tell you how many people I know who have “service” dogs or emotional needs pets for issues like anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

  8. This gives me a great idea for a new business. I’m going to provide a therapeutic lawn-mowing service. Who wouldn’t feel better after an hour walking in the grass, smelling the fresh cuttings and listening to the soothing put-put of the 2-cylinder engine?
    You come to my house, use my mower and my lawn–all for only $100. That’s less than a shrink! Sign up now and I’ll throw in a glass of lemonade.

  9. Are you just covering up your embarrassment that you have never heard of pet therapy with an attempt at sardonic humor?

  10. Therapy dog teams are volunteers and provide a service without charge to many people. If you have never seen a Therapy dog team brighten a nursing home or a children’s cancer ward, then you are missing something quite special. Walleroo, one day a Therapy dog team will visit you or a loved one at your/their bedside providing comfort and warmth, and perhaps you will ponder your idiotic comments. Probably not.

  11. How walleroo can malign and mock such a beautiful and wonderful thing is beyond me. It can only indicate the darkness and malevolence of his soul.

  12. Yes, you can’t help but wonder about the soul of a man that hates teachers and mocks dogs that bring joy to the sick and disabled.

  13. I, too, am amazed at the number of people on here who dislike animals or don’t appreciate the contributions they make to the world. Of course, the number of posters who love animals is greater but it still irks me.

  14. I agree, Mrs. M. There are so many people with physical and psychological disabilities whose lives have been made better by animals. When Walleroo is old and creaky and has difficulty getting out from under that porch, he will relish regular visits from a canine friend.

  15. I can’t decide which I hate worse, teachers or dogs. Or children, the little bastards.

  16. I think he’s joshing with us, JJ. He likes to push people’s buttons, as do many people on here.

  17. I forgot the elderly. Ugh. Remind me again why we need them?
    What’s most gratifying, though, is to have midwifed such a display of creativity and wit from johnjay. Few people in this world can know such a joy as this.

  18. That poor beagle, ‘Champ’ that was horribly burned with acid has recovered (mostly) and is now a ‘therapy’ dog.
    Many LTC facilities have dogs and cats that live there and bring some joy to those sick and aging souls who would not, otherwise, have the opportunity to simply pet a beautiful animal and feel the love that exists between our species.
    I often marvel at how well people get along with dogs and cats. I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this phenomena, but the deeper I look, all I see is shining unconditional love. It’s so powerful, that I’ve come to believe that it is the true engine of the universe.

  19. Walleroo,
    You should get a gerbil. The are good starter pets. My brother and I had one as kids. Sometimes they bite, but since they are very small it doesn’t hurt too much. They make little, teeny, tiny turds that don’t really smell and have the consistency of Afghani hashish. I would hazard against smoking them as the resulting hallucinations could be harmful.

  20. Bites and turds, Mellon? And you’re trying to sell this concept?
    Which reminds me of that woman who fell asleep on her sofa a few years ago (come to think of it, “passed out” is probably a better way to describe it) and her dog proceeded to nibble off half her face. Then this French surgeon did a heroic face-transplant operation to save her. Remember that?
    Was that a therapy dog?

  21. .. I don’t know, don’t remember that story, just the horrid one about the chimpanzee attack.
    A couple of days ago my brother was found naked and convulsing in his living room with the front door wide open during a snow storm. Apparently he was in the throes of delerium tremens and hypothermia. He’s in ICU now on life support. The weird thing is during this entire time his cat didn’t once try to ingest any of his face, so you see, not all animals are evil.

  22. Okay, Mellon, since to my knowledge there was no snowstorm a few days ago, I’m going to assume that this story is just a figment of your dark and malevolent sense of humor.

  23. No, it’s true, my brother lives in Wheatridge, CO. I think it snowed there on Mon-Tues. His neighbor found him. Not sure what’s going to happen to his cat…

  24. .. Is my sense of humor really malevolent? If it seems that way I appologize, since malevolence implies harmful intent which I don’t really have. I’ll acknowledge my weirdness and darkness. I’m an alcoholic too and sometimes my brain gets a little whacked out. So from now on I’ll try to keep it light.

  25. MB, I’m so sorry to hear about your brother; that’s awful. I hope he recovers well so he can take care of himself and go home to his cat.

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