Webinar presenters Jason Ratcliff, Darrah Metz, and Dr. Kimberly Miller answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Therapy K9s: Changing the Way Law Enforcement Reaches Their Communities. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: How much does it cost to typically bring a dog to your school? I guess what I am asking there specifically is, is there special fees to the dog? How does this work? I know you said tuition is free but can you talk a little bit more about the expenses?
Jason Ratcliff: Yeah Absolutely. Your agency would need to acquire a dog before they come. If an agency is interested in doing that, they can reach out to us so we can help them with that via email or phone and kind of guide them in the right direction and help them in choosing a dog. A therapy K9 can be anything from a chihuahua to a pitbull. Unlike the traditional patrol K9 where we are talking the Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, things like that, to therapy canines that doesn’t apply. Are there some breeds that are well known for their temperament? Yes, labs are one. Golden Retrievers are another. Any dog can be utilized. When we are looking at a dog we are not looking at the breed. We are looking specifically at the temperament. One of the things that Darrah is certified to do is temperament test dogs. She picks all of our dogs out for us and does a temperament test before we acquire them. We understand that not every agency can have a canine trainer on staff. What you can do is if you start to go to a breeder, I will tell you that if you want a hypoallergenic dog, a doodle, poodle or something like that, they are extremely hard to find in the find in shelters. We run across every now and then. There is not many that come in and when they do come in, they go fast. If you are wanting a doodle or something like that and you are going to get it through a breeder, find a reputable breeder in your area, they are very good. Darrah, can you talk about Madison about how the breeder helped you before you had all of your certifications?
Darrah Metz: Yeah, so before I went to Master K9 Trainer School and got certified to do temperament testing, when I spoke to the breeder, I was talking to them about what we are wanting to do, that I need a dog that can chill out but still be playful, you know a highly intelligent dog, trainable, but then he was going to have to be able to be worked. When I was talking to her about it, she started asking to me these questions like what would be the environment? I started talking about courts maybe, witness stands, schools, different things like that. She had a litter of 14 at the time and she handpicked Mattis, one dog out of a litter of 14. She basically told me that, “I have one dog that could do that. I’ve already temperament tested all of the dogs and I have one out of 14 that we do that, would you like that dog?”
Jason Ratcliff: Good experienced breeders who know their stuff will be able to do that for you. Also, if you decide to go to the rescuer route, our county animal shelter has two behavior staff. Humane societies believe they all have behaviors staff. You can walk in and get a dog for probably under 100 bucks and have them help you find it. Those are things that people reach office and have questions, we’re more than happy to help them. Stacy to answer your question, you just need a dog when you come, it could be any age when you come. It would be best if the dog could do basic obedience: sit, down, stay, calm. That’s not absolutely necessary. We’re not going to be able to teach your dog that in a week. What we would recommend if you come in with a younger dog that hasn’t had obedience between now and April. You can get through puppy obedience classes with that dog before you come to us. In our are here in Central Ohio, a six-week basic obedience class is going to run you somewhere around 250 bucks. It’s fairly economical. It is not super expensive but like I said they don’t have to do all that when they come. Understand that to be certified as a therapy dog, the dog has to be a year old and you have to had a six-month relationship with your dog. Understand that it is not required to come into our school. That is what was required by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. I could not evaluate you when you come into our school but therapy certification unless you meet these two requirements you will still give you a certificate for coming into our school. What can I do for you if your dog doesn’t meet those requirements, I can help you find an evaluator in your hometown that you can get to evaluate you or if you are not too far from us, you’re more than welcome to come back and I’ll get you when you are ready. We will also certify you as an AKC Good Citizen. There is no age requirement for that but I’ will tell you that there are 10 stages to that test and your dogs will be able to sit and down and stay in command. It is not an extremely difficult test but really and there’s more in our website about this. Actually, Darrah and I made some videos about dog selection, dog training for folks and if you go there and watch those there’s a lot of information over there. The two keys to training a dog are consistency and patience. That’s really it. It is training us more than just training the dogs. Any dog can do it it really comes down to the handlers so.
Audience Question: Could you get any more specifics around the age? Is there a minimum age? Conversely, how old can a dog be to become a therapy dog?
Darrah Metz: You can have a puppy. The dog has to be one year old to be certified as a therapy dog. You can go to that initial training up until that time that canine — citizen doesn’t have an age requirement. You can do all the obedience classes leading up. You just can’t be certified as a therapy dog until the dog is one year of age.
Jason Ratcliff: Understand something and this is a question we get a lot. Just because your dog doesn’t hold a therapy certification doesn’t mean that you cannot start utilizing your dog. We wrote it an entire SOP. Our SOP is available to download here. If for some reason you don’t get it, just email and I’ll send it to you at TherapyK9.com. We wrote an entire SOP that part of our dog’s training is to actually working them before therapy certification. It is a key, especially for a puppy. You are going to miss a lot of socialization opportunities with your dog. You cannot wait until they’re old enough to be therapy certified to start working them, exposing them to everything. You need to get them out of the field, you need to get them to events, schools, and get them around people. They don’t have to be totally trained. I can tell you in the state of Ohio, there is no legislation on the books for therapy dogs and what constitutes a therapy dog. That’s the situation in most of the US. You want to check your local state laws but generally speaking, it has been our experience the agency had your chief of police, your sheriff, whoever all they have to say is that is now our therapy dog, that is your therapy dog. You don’t have to have certification to start working your dog. It does take a year. Understand that we advocate getting your dog out asap. A real quick example, Ottawa county sheriff’s office which is in northern Ohio up by lake Erie, we selected a dog from our shelter for them. Picked them out, did a temperament test, he is about 6 mos old. Ottawa county is not that far from us, 2-hour drive he comes down and trains with us periodically. He was with us earlier today. His dog’s doing great. He calls us he knows us, he emails us. We make sure he’s staying up to par and everything. He’ll be going dor us full in April. Darrah is simply giving him the tools and telling him what to work on and he just checks in. We told him your dog is a very impressionable age right now. It would be our recommendation that if you get back home you tell your sheriff, he’s an SRO, that you get that dog is the school ASAP. Thankfully his Sherriff heeded that advice. He’s been the school now for how many weeks? About a month. He’s had Finn(?) for about a month and so we had launched day after training and he said absolutely remarkable. He works at the school that is all behavioral children. That’s all it is. Some of them have autism. Many others have behavioral issues. He’s had I think documented 10 incidences in the last month where Finn has directly deescalated situations. The school staff absolutely loves it. It is made deputy Miller’s job so much easier. He’s had great success. We’re really tapping into and chatting up there in Ottawa County and keeping tabs on how he is doing in an SRO environment because that is not something we are doing yet.
Audience Question: How did it actually cost to start your program?
Jason Ratcliff: We’re fortunate. As a supervisor, I am so fortunate to have Darrah as a deputy. Her heart, soul, and passion is in this program. She’s been – I told her not to a lot of times, she spends a lot of time, a lot of off duty hours making things happen and we had financial support from the start. It didn’t cost us anything. The dogs didn’t cost us anything. Mattis and Woody were acquired with donated funds. Kit was donated by someone to the agency. Oliver supplies. When we got Woody, we had a relationship with a nationwide pet retailer. They support our program. When we got Woody, he was a pup. We didn’t have anything for him. We walked out of a store with $1000 worth of product free of charge. We’re very fortunate. I’ll tell you that has not been handed to us. Darrah has put a lot of work into that. If that’s the way you want to go, I’ll tell you it’s going to take some work. You have to make some phone calls, you are going to talk to some people in your community. I’m telling you, when you are telling them about this program or what you are going to be doing for the community, you are going to have a ton of community support. Now, throw in the factor that if you are going to utilize a shelter or a rescue dog, that pulls on the heartstrings. Even more so you are going to have support from your community. One of the things that we love to do is to put a Paypal or donate button on our social media, on our website. We are in the process of working through that right now without finance department. It’s just going to take some time but realistically, to start the program, we didn’t have to purchase any cars. We already had cars. We just decided that and this is not absolutely necessary but we decided to set our cruisers up just like our patrol canine cruisers are set up. We had to purchase kennels and hot and pot systems forum. I said that was $5000 unit cost, the cost of a dog just to give you guys just an idea. Madice was $1500 and Woody was $3000 depending on your dog, your breeder. It can run the gamut of cost. One of the dogs you’ve seen, Stark has been retired since that video, he is no longer in our team. He was retired and placed with a Vietnam veteran, a 100% disabled. Vietnam veteran in our community but Stark is a rescue. We highly advocate working with local shelters and rescues, utilizing a dog that way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That will significantly reduce your cost right there. Another big cost to consider is your vet cost. We’re fortunate that we have 1 vet that takes care of all our dogs, all their annual exams, their dental cleanings, a lot of medications. There is one medication that Mattis is on, it’s a long term allergy medication that I believe we get 35% discount. But, for the most part, it hasn’t cost us anything. With Kit and Woody, we have to gt them groomed because they are hypoallergenic dogs, their hair will just keep growing. They’ll just look like big fuzzballs if we don’t. Kit for us here in our area is probably an average of $150 haircut. She gets her haircut in about 5-6 weeks. Same thought for Woody. those are just some thoughts that you have to keep in mind. If you go out, if an agency is really serious about this and you go out and start beating on some vet and that doors and some groomer’s doors and go visit some of your pet retailers or just anyone.
Darrah Metz: Can I just add something? I would tell you that when I went around and I wanted to tie up everything in a neat little box so the sheriff couldn’t say no. I knew that if I could get everything donated, it is hard to say no to free stuff. I went and I talked to, I had just taken my personal family dog to the vet and started talking to the vet about it and say you know what, what are your thoughts? He goes if you are going to do something good like that for our community, I’m going to do something good as well. Those are the things that you have to put yourself up in that uncomfortable spot if you are wanting to get your program donated. If you have a plethora of funding, that’s awesome, you don’t have to go that route. For us it was really important, for me at least, I wanted this to be a service that we provided to our community. Not a service that our community have to pay for. For me, that is the number one thing and I hope that we can keep this self-sustained for years to come.
Audience Question: Can a therapy dog be an older dog?
Jason Ratcliff: Yes sorry. We did miss that.
Darrah Metz: Yes. Yes. the answer is yes it can be an older dog. For us, I think our oldest dog right now is five. That’s Kit. Mattis is 2. Woody is 1. I think that therapy K9 in law enforcement or any other agency can do a lot longer years of service. It just depends on the dog. I know Otis, the Bischon Fries that we trained for Tempe(?) police was 9 years old. It is really about what fits your situation
Jason Ratcliff: I think our preferred age can be anywhere from puppy from under probably six. Here’s the thing, at the end of the day, unfortunately, we just had this happen with one of our patrol K9 was I believe 5 years old, came down with cancer, euthanized him last week. You just never know. I believe age is not a big thing. It is definitely not pertinent to therapy dog work as is patrol canine work. These dogs can keep going as long as physically able to walk and are healthy. If you are going to invest a lot of money into your dog or into your program, it would be preferred that you go as young as possible. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a puppy but you know 1,2,3 years old.
Audience Question: Darrah what kind of training did you go through to become a master K9 trainer?
Darrah Metz: Good question. National K9 is a dog trainer school here in Columbus. it is actually one of the top three schools in the country. When we were talking about how we want our training to be in-house and not have to outsource our training. Even though our training was donated for a basic obedience portion, we want to do so much more with our dogs. We started looking into it. national canine right here in the Columbus was top three in the country. I asked for permission to use some of our donated funds to go to that course. It was a six-week course here I thought it was going to be great training. you know. 9-5. Weekends off. I was there 16 hours a day. It absolutely changed my life. I loved the fact that every day is a training day for us. We can make our dogs better every single day. For me, I just started researching dog trainer schools. We’re lucky enough in Columbus to have one of the top in the country. That’s exactly what I did and went to.
Jason Ratcliff: That school and I’m just going to tell you for those in admin positions, the school was just under $10000. It’s not a cheap endeavor. It was a tough school. Darrah does long days. She worked seven days a week. She had no idea going in. She’s now a member of the international association of canine professionals and the training for us has been invaluable. We’re able to take that training in and bless other agencies with that. That’s been our long term plan. We went down to (indiscernible?) county Florida. We really liked. We are not modeling their program. We do things differently. There are some things that we want to do to get to work towards doing more of what they are doing down there. We walked out of there saying you know what this is phenomenal, what they are doing with dogs, they are working exclusively with shelter dogs down there. they are having their inmates do all the basic training. For the Sheriff’s office, we have a jail, we have plenty of inmates that something is talked about here. That is something that we’re working towards, having Darrah go through the master canine school wasn’t just for inhouse training. It wasn’t just for in-house training. It was also for our long term vision or goals which eventually we would like to have our inmates training rescue dogs to recycle these dogs back out into the community either law enforcement agencies, non-profits or even as emotional support dogs to children or veterans.
Audience Question: In terms about talking about sourcing your dogs, you talked a lot about the different options people have. Who actually picks the dog? Is it the Law enforcement Officer that is part of your unit or does the agency kind of bless that selection? How does that selection process work?
Jason Ratcliff: We let our handlers pick the dog. At the end of the day, decision rests on them. Darrah has a propensity for labs as what she has grown up with. She just has to find the right lab to do the job. Due to allergies and shedding and issues like that, we tend to have to have a hypoallergenic dog for not only ourselves and our family. We have to have a hypoallergenic option. We want a labradoodle. It’s just a matter of picking the right labradoodle. When we find the dogs, that’s when Darrah comes in and gives us the blessing. She checks them up and says they are good to go, they passed the test.
Audience Question: How do you go about selling this idea now to the boss? What would you recommend? How would you recommend they take those next steps?
Darrah Metz: I was told no twice. I’m going to let you guys know that
Jason Ratcliff: But told twice by the previous administration
Darrah: By the previous administration. I brought it to them, they were looking for innovative creative ways to reach out to our communities. I had come up with this idea of therapy K9s and presented to a previous administration and was told no almost immediately but there was just something that I knew that I couldn’t let it go. It was just something that I truly believe in, I was passionate about. I started researching the very little agencies that were out there utilizing them, the different outcomes that they were having that I could find on the internet. I did more and more research. I went back the following year and presented the same idea to the previous Sherriff’s office. I was told no. When Sherrif Paul came in, a new administration came in, I kind of have the three strikes you are out mentality. In the meantime, I kept researching the utilization of the therapy K9s in law enforcement, in community and seeing how they were being utilized in all areas, not just law enforcement. Actually, I had my chief and Sherriff in the room and they were coming like you know we need some good ideas. I was like, “I have one but I don’t think you are going to like it.” I told them therapy K9s and the sheriff and the chief looked at each other and said wow we really liked that idea. When can we have the dog? Two weeks later, we had Mattis. My best advice to you is do the work beforehand. Have everything ready to go so that your sheriff or your chief, your admin ask you questions, you have the answers. Obviously, Sergeant Ratcliffe and I will help anybody in any way they can because we believe so passionately about this program that we will help you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us. My best advice is to have all your ducks in the row. Believe in it and when you go and talk to them, just be ready to defend your position.
Jason Ratcliff: Simply put in a nutshell, the benefits need to outweigh the costs. I’m telling from our experience form some of the figures you have seen here today, hopefully, that forms some type of ballpark figure in your mind of what it may cost per year to have a dog. The benefits and what you may have seen back from your community in my opinion far outweigh those costs.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Therapy K9s: Changing the Way Law Enforcement Reaches Their Communities.