SHIH TZU: Born To Be Therapy Dogs

Editors Note: Below is a letter that was sent to the ASTC web site in April. The topic is one that might be of interest to many Shih Tzu owners. The ASTC Board of Directors plans to encourage those who participate in therapy dog programs. Letter is edited due to space restraints.

I would like to suggest that the American Shih Tzu Club do more to encourage the use of Shih Tzu as therapy dogs. It may seem unnecessary; it may seem that there are plenty of more important activities to promote!indeed, it’s exciting to see Shih Tzu excelling in conformation, obedience, agility, even coursing - but, although fun, those are only sports. They don’t benefit the community and don’t usually touch the general public. Those accomplishments are among the dog world. They’re wonderful, and a great testament to what the breed can do to those who are into dog events. But who is out there influencing the general public, taking time to meet and educate and help their neighbors, who may not even know how to pronounce the breed’s name?

Therapy dogs are so vital because therapy dogs are the real ambassadors of the dog world. They are living Meet-the-Breeds exhibits. Therapy dogs have the ability to reach the public like no pet or even performance dog can - they are in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, girl scout meetings, hospices, universities, disaster areas, courts, camps, and an untold number of other places, quietly shaping the public’s view of dogs.

We need to promote therapy among those who are true dog people. Therapy dogs are the one type of dog that can really reach the general public; but if those who are truly knowledgeable about dogs are using their knowledge and their dogs exclusively within the dog show world, the therapy dog handler population will continue to be made largely of average pet owners. And by average pet owners, I mean those who have rescued, or gotten from backyard breeders or even pet stores, often without much research or expertise, and they may or may not actually have any idea what they are talking about when people ask them questions about the breed or purebred dogs in general.

To be fair, there are many exhibitors who are using their dogs as therapy dogs - but the majority are not, and that is a problem. If we want the general public to stop thinking that all breeders are horrible, that all purebred dogs are sickly or bad-tempered, that dog shows are terrible, and all the other silly misconceptions that people tend to have, we need to be out there showing them! The point I am trying to make is that we need more of our well-behaved, well-bred dogs and our well-educated dog people involved in this field. It is the one field in which the general public does ask questions, and wants to hear what dog people have to say! (and as a side benefit, of course, getting to spend time with your dog while helping people actually feels really good).

It is due to the above reasons that I feel that it is crucial to get more real dog people - more Shih Tzu breeders, exhibitors, experts, and even well-educated pet owners - involved in doing therapy work with their dogs. The question that remains then is, how? Sure the idea of therapy dogs is nice, but how do you promote such a thing? How to convince more people to care to volunteer?

I know performance people who have had fleeting thoughts of using their dogs in therapy before but never gotten around to it. But if we keep bringing that idea up, and educating dog people about it, and getting them to think about it more (and also consider telling their responsible, hopefully- well-educated puppy buyers about it), it stands to reason that eventually the idea is going to stick with some people and get them to give it a try. So how can we get the word out there about therapy work? I can’t seem to find any articles on the one activity that this breed was practically born to do!

I think we need to start talking about it now and then, and even start an award program. I know that the AKC has a therapy dog title program now, which I love - but I mean another, special award, honoring one or a few Shih Tzu each year for their service.
I know that this has been a lengthy plea, but I hope you can see now how vital therapy dogs are to the dog world, and how beneficial it would be to to get more people involved. Please consider what I have said, and if you have any questions, please contact me and I will do whatever I can to help. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely, Emma Risinger