Show Dog to Therapy Dog

show dogFirst, show dogs make their career in the ring. They trot under the brightest of lights, displaying their beautiful gait and adherence to their breed for panels upon panels of judges and fans. They show their overall magnificence, and receive recognition in the form of championships. But what happens when the lights dim, and the career of a show dog comes to a close? What exactly does a show dog’s retirement bring?Like their active owners, show dogs need to find some outlet to channel the energy they used to expend at dog shows. Thus, for many show dogs, the answer to the retirement question comes in the form of becoming therapy dogs, dogs that are especially trained to bring comfort to people in any setting, including hospitals and disaster areas.

Why Do Show Dogs Make Good Therapy Dogs?

Though it might be difficult to see at first, the transition from performing as a show dog to becoming a therapy dog is a natural one. Due to the very nature of dog shows, show dogs need to possess many of the character traits that therapy dogs do. Therapy dogs must be obedient, calm and, due to the innumerable interactions they’ll have, must be comfortable around people.

From a career in the show ring, show dogs are already accustomed to dealing with people, and used to being handled by the judges and show observers. Show dogs are naturally social beings, and in turn therapy work is a perfect fit.

From Show Dog to Therapy Dog: Hogan’s Story

This year, a prime example of the show dog to therapy dog transition made an appearance at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, After five years of being unable to make the show, a show dog (who still competes in the veteran class) and therapy dog named Hogan finally had his day on the blue carpet. Despite a career of competitive showing, Hogan’s true calling was therapy work. Inspired by this calling, Hogan became certified as a therapy dog, and was recognized for it with an AKC THD title.

Hogan began his foray into therapy work in 2009, after his owner, Rosie Feeley, had learned that Hogan’s breeder had established a K-9 / Kids reading program. Feeley felt that Hogan, who had always displayed a calm temperament and an affinity to be social around people, would be perfectly suited for such a program. Thinking it might be a fun experience for Hogan, Feeley had Hogan tested and certified through Therapy Dogs International.

From that point on, Hogan became more actively involved in his community through his therapy work. Eventually, Hogan would become involved in two specific areas in his community. First, he became involved with a K-9 and kids reading program with the Boynton Beach City Library.

“Every Thursday, we go with Hogan to the library for an hour,” says Feeley. “We bring a mat, and the kids sit with him and read with him. Overall, he provides the kids a very soothing experience.”

In another location, a senior center called The Carlisle, Hogan works with a vastly different demographic: seniors in assisted living. While the setting is different, Hogan provides the same, soothing effect that he has on the children. All he does is let the people at the home interact with him. In this setting, as with the Boynton City Beach Library, Hogan’s natural proclivity to be social works to his benefit and the benefit of those around him.

“I think Hogan benefits from his therapy work because, to be honest, he’s happiest around people,” says Feeley. “He’s just a social dog that wouldn’t be happy if he wasn’t actively doing something, and his therapy work provides that outlet. And, at the same time he’s benefiting, he’s helping the people around him.”

Despite being successful in the show ring (he made an appearance at the Westminster Kennel Club Show in 2008), Hogan and his owner Rosie understand that therapy work was his true calling and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The therapy work I see Hogan in is the single most rewarding activity that I’ve ever been involved with,” says Feeley. “When you see the children that couldn’t even open their mouths to read, and then, in the presence of Hogan, seem to open up and begin reading, it’s heartwarming. You get a warm feeling inside. And yes, you fill yourself with pride. Honestly, I just love it.”

From show dog to therapy dog and the work that has been done in between, Hogan’s story is a remarkable one that his owner holds dear.

What are your thoughts on Hogan’s story? Share them in a comment!