Dozer the Great Dane is a big inspiration. He’s a gentle giant that helps the young and old with his therapy work. We spoke with Dozer’s mom, Angie (winner of our Valentine’s Share the Love Contest), to find out more about him and his amazing accomplishments. I must admit, when we started research on Talent Hounds a few years ago, we were all a little surprised that Great Danes can make such excellent therapy dogs as we did not know that much about the breed and just assumed their size might be a problem.
About The Great Dane Dog Breed
Great Danes are elegant and docile, with great affection for their families. Proper care, socialization, training and supervision around children are advised, as with all breeds.
Q: Why did you choose this breed, any insights, tips (we find there are quite a few misconceptions)?
“Great Danes are different than any other breed I’ve ever known. They are big, sensitive lap dogs that want to be with you everywhere you go, yes even the bathroom. I would say the biggest misconception is thinking you need lots of space for a Dane. The truth is they don’t care how big the yard is or how small your apartment is. As long as they have you and a couch, life is good.”
Q: How did you and Dozer meet?
“I brought Dozer (the runt of the litter) and his sister Daisy home when they were just past 6 weeks old. I had picked them when they were a week old, they fit perfect in the palm of my hand at that time. By their 8-week check up, they were already over 20 pounds.” A full grown Dane can weigh between 45–59 kg as a female and 54–90 kg as a male. Although they are one of the largest dog breeds, Dane’s are known as “the largest lapdogs” you’ll meet.
Welcoming a large dog breed into your family may seem daunting for some. But Angie explained her transition from Border Collies was an easy choice.
“I wasn’t always a Dane mom, I was a Border Collie mom who dreamed of being a Dane mom. As my Border Collies aged, the need for a Dane got greater. The Border Collies are brilliant, they trained every dog on the block. When a friend announced she was expecting Dane puppies, I knew I had to have one. The timing was perfect, the Border Collies could help with training. Sadly we have since lost both Collies to old age, one at 11 years old, the other two months before her 17th birthday. Before they left, they taught Dozer and his sister important things about boundaries, chewing things they shouldn’t and the very important rule… stay out of the trash! If the pups broke one of these rules a stern growl from the Border Collies would solve the issue.”
Training A Great Dane
Dozer wasn’t always the shining star he is today. As the runt of the litter, he had more to prove.
“By the time Dozer and Daisy reached 6 months old and had all their vaccines, I started looking for a trainer. Realizing they would soon be bigger and stronger than me, obedience was a must. Being short on money and time, I decided to take the classes with one dog then teach the other with my new found talents. I looked carefully at my dogs, realizing one seemed smarter than the other I choose to take the “not so smart” one to obedience class. You guessed it, Dozer was the chosen one.”
Q: When did you notice he’d be a good match for therapy work?
“Part of our class homework required us to practice basic commands in public places. Places with lots of distractions. Our local park was perfect for this. As we practiced crowds formed. Games game to an end, children walked away from their birthday parties in hopes of getting closer to Dozer. He was the center of attention, everyone wanted to pose for pictures with him and love on him.
Dozer Loves Spreading Smiles
“It was during one of these practice sessions, as he was surrounded by children, a young mother approached me with tears in her eyes. She thanked me for bringing Dozer to the park that day and explained how difficult life had been for her family lately, it had been a real long time since she saw her daughter smile.
The family had been seeing a therapist for some time but hadn’t gotten to a smile yet. Seeing Dozer break through and get her to the smile brought this mother to tears. She suggested Dozer become a therapy dog.
I hadn’t heard of therapy dogs before and wasn’t sure there was such a thing. After we said our goodbyes and continued through the park I noticed how happy Dozer was. My attention turned to his agenda not mine and I soon noticed he lead me from person to person, getting smiles and love from each of them. When he saw someone sitting off by themselves he insisted on going to them.
He loved people! He loved the smiles and laughs, he loved it all and they loved him!
When we got home I couldn’t help but think of that little girl and her mom, as well as the others we had met that day. I wondered what their day would have been like had we not gone to the park that day. Needless to say, I got on the computer and found out what a therapy dog was! We became a registered team about eight months later.”
Becoming A Therapy Dog
Training and exposure are the most important things when training a therapy dog. Not only do you need good basic obedience but you need exposure to things like:
Even scary things out there like fire alarms or balloons
“The more exposure they have to theses things the less scary they become. Dozer isn’t afraid of the usual things that scare dogs. He isn’t afraid of vacuums, fireworks or thunder but he’s afraid of tape measures, brooms and fly swatters. It’s up to me as the handler to know theses things and have a plan to overcome or avoid such things.”
Q: Any tips for people who want to train their dog for therapy work?
“We are a team, I read his signals and he reads mine. If you’re just starting your adventures as a therapy dog team I suggest starting with the elderly. They move slower and aren’t as loud and active as the children so the beginning therapy dogs are more relaxed.”
What To Consider With Large Breed Therapy Dogs
There is a few thing to consider when visiting with a Dozer size dog.
Feet can be an issue. I have become a pro at positioning myself in a way that prevents Dozer from stepping on patients feet. Sometimes it’s my feet that get stepped on in the process but it’s a small price to pay to prevent him from stepping on an elderly or young child.
There are times we have to squeeze along a wall or machine to reach a patient. Dozer needs a lot of space to hang a u-turn so it was real important he learn how to back up. His size is a big advantage in many cases. There is no bending required. He’s the perfect size to approach hospital beds and wheelchairs and is easily assailable.
His size gets attention and motivates people to communicate and socialize as well use those hands for some petting and scratching.
Dozer’s Therapy Work
Dozer has accomplished many things. He completed four levels of obedience training with Dog Max Inc., received the AKC Canine Good Citizen Award and passed the therapy dog test by the age of 15 months and accepted into Therapy Dogs Incorporated aka Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
We currently visit at least 12 different facilities a month. Places we visit have included:
children’s group homes
The Ronald McDonald House.
“Years ago we discovered our public library didn’t have a reading program so we created the program, it has been going strong for four years now! He has been there for people while they are learning to walk again or learning to read for the first time.”
Q: What do the patients he works with think about him and therapy dogs in general?
“He has been there on the very best days for some and the very worst days for others.
He has welcomed new babies home from the hospital and stood beside some as they said their final goodbyes.
He has sat beside me and licked my tears away after a few visits that I cried all the way home from.
He participates in fundraisers from everything to cancer funding to shelter dogs.
He has shown love to some who seem unlovable and has built close relationships with many but I would have to say the achievement I am most proud of is his ability to inspire.
Through his visits and Facebook Page he has inspired many others to make a difference. There are therapy dog teams visiting nursing homes, airports, schools, hospitals and libraries because they were inspired!”
“One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had during a visit was one of my regular visits to the airport. We are a military town and share the airport with Eglin Air Force. We get lots of snow birds, spring breakers and military families to visit with. While visiting passengers waiting to board their flight, Dozer noticed a woman across the room and wanted to make a beeline to her. As we got closer, her smile got bigger and when we were in range she and Dozer snuggled and hugged. They shared lots of eye to eye contact and snuggled some more. I kind of felt bad for the other passengers waiting for some Dozer time, because he paid them no attention. He stayed with that one woman until they called her flight to board. We said our goodbyes and hurried to greet a few more people on their way to the aircraft. Right before the lady disappeared down the runway, she turned to say one more final goodbye to Dozer. It was then that I noticed she was holding something tightly against her heart, a perfectly folded American flag.
She was the mother of a local fallen hero.
Not everybody who flies is going on vacation. We don’t know what everyone is going through in their lives, but I do know we were exactly where we should have been at that very moment.
I no longer felt “kind of bad” because some passengers didn’t get as much attention.
There was a time in my life I felt I had nothing to give, nothing that really gave my life purpose. This moment changed that. I trained with Dozer. I set up our volunteer time with the airport. To have brought some comfort to this woman at this time in her life gives my life more meaning.”
Dozer Fun Facts!
Share a Smile (they’re free)
I’m just a big dog doing little things, sometimes little things make a big difference.
A children’s book series based on Dozer‘s adventures that encourage kindness.
Purchase Dozer items, such as his calendars, through his Zazzle store!
Dogs Over Dates: #LoveYourDog
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