The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier is widely known as a happy dog with a good disposition. This makes them ideal dogs to use as therapy visitors for special needs children.
Of course, the Wheaten Terrier must also be well trained. Because of its large size, its over-exuberance could hurt a child if the dog has not been reined in somewhat.
When a dog tries out for Therapy Dogs International (TDI), there is a series of tests that the animal will be submitted to before it is allowed to interact with special needs children. The Wheaten should not be afraid of strangers and even allow others to pet it. The dog must also know how to sit, come and stay on command. As well, the dog should walk nicely on a leash and be able to walk through a crowd without becoming too distracted, upset or out of control in public places.
All canines used by TDI must be at least one year old and pass the Canine Good Citizen Test of the American Kennel Club. Wheaten Terriers generally tolerate a certain amount of rough housing from kids, but certified evaluators with TDI will ensure that any dog working with special needs children is patient and not easily agitated.
Testing will take place to ensure that the Wheaten does not act aggressively or conversely, be too shy toward children playing and running around. The Wheaton will also be put into various situations, such as children or adults in wheelchairs, using walkers or on crutches to ensure a safe and friendly reaction to such equipment.
Another test involves grooming. The evaluator will inspect the dog, brush the animal and also inspect its body especially its ears and feet to ensure there are no problems or health concerns that need to be taken care of. In fact TDI insists on a Health Record form from a licensed vet.
TDI was established in New Jersey in 1976. It is a non-profit group that receives funding through memberships. As of the 2006, there were more than 15,000 dogs registered with the organization and there are volunteer dogs working in 50 states, as well as a number of them in Canada.
Wheatens are also utilized to help children learn to read. The Tail Wagging Tutors program is aimed at getting dogs ready to enter The Children Reading to Dogs Program, which goes into various schools.
It has been found that when a child can read to an attentive, well-trained dog, he or she learns to not only read faster, but also develops a keen desire to read books. For special needs children learning to read can be very difficult. However, if they have a captive audience, such as a well-trained Wheaton Terrier, they perform much better making their parents both surprised and pleased.