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October 2012
English Setters

Doing What Comes Naturally –
English Setters as Therapy Dogs

This month we have a delightful guest column from Cynthia Hinckley, founder and president of Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc. Over the past twenty years, five of her English Setters have been certified therapy dogs and together they have made over 30,000 visits in assisted living facilities, hospitals, psychiatric units, Alzheimer’s units, hospice, and elementary schools. Cynthia explains why English Setters are the perfect choice to act as therapy dogs.

All dogs are wonderful, but not all dogs make good therapy dogs.

A good therapy dog starts with temperament. Without it, go no further. A therapy dog must feel at ease interacting with all types of people in a variety of settings. Clearly, some breeds were bred to be reserved with strangers or to protect – their person, their home, or territory – and may not be forthcoming with others.

This most certainly is not the case with English Setters. As a breed, they are extremely adaptable, both to new people and new environments. Most of my English came to me as older dogs, having spent time on the show circuit with their breeders. They immediately shifted gears to life here with us on the farm and breezed through their evaluations to become certified therapy dogs.

In 1992, when our family got our first English Setter, I saw immediately something extra special in her. In the words of the English Setter standard, she was gentle, affectionate, and friendly, without shyness, fear or viciousness. This was a dog – and ultimately the breed – that I would spend my future with making visits as certified therapy dogs bringing comfort and companionship to humans in both healthcare and educational settings.

Not only do these dogs possess a sweet, soft, soulful personality, they can be super friendly – almost clownish – making them suitable for work with patients in healthcare settings and children in educational programs.

The first thing that catches a person’s eye is their striking physical appearance. Young and old, alike, are in awe of their beautiful silky fur and their spotted coat. This promotes all manner of conversation, a hallmark of therapy dog visiting. Their mid-size stature is helpful in promoting movement amongst rehab and wheelchair bound patients. Standing alongside a seated patient, they are just the right height for the patient to move his hand along the full length of the dog – head to ears, along the back, and right down to the feathered tail.

The English Setter is light enough to lie on a patient’s bed. My male, who weighs 64 pounds, appears weightless as he lifts himself up on the bed of a hospice patient and lies full-length alongside the patient’s body – his head placed gently on her chest. English Setters possess a patience unlike any I have witnessed in other breeds. They are perfectly calm and relaxed as they sooth and comfort those in need.

A good therapy dog enjoys his work. The English Setter constantly offers companionship and caring to his owner on the home front and is equally content in doing the same with others.

Thanks to Cynthia for a great insight into English Setters and how they are so good at bringing comfort and joy to us humans. Cynthia welcomes your questions about therapy dog training, certification, and visiting opportunities. She can be reached at hinckleycj@gmail.com.

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