Training therapy dogs an unexpected career change
There’s nothing more uplifting than seeing a therapy dog at work. These canines can be found doing a variety of jobs, such as sitting quietly while a child reads to them. They bring unconditional love and comfort to people in nursing homes and they have even been known to calm the frightened and harried in emergency rooms.
Therapy Dogs International (TDI) is one organization that helps people train their dogs for this work. In fact, a couple of years ago, Nancy Diepenbrock of Eagle River opened TDI Northwoods Chapter 250; however, finding trainers to certify dogs for this work was tough. The testing dates are sporadic and are often in cities miles away from the Northwoods area.
But Nicole Belmore has changed all that. Nicole and her husband, Rich, own and operate Northern Wisconsin Canine Center in Eagle River, and Nicole has just been approved to test and certify therapy dogs through TDI in this area. “There is such a need for therapy dogs here,” said Nicole. “When Nancy started this chapter with her dog, Quincy, she quickly became overwhelmed with all the calls she was getting to bring him to places like schools, libraries and nursing homes. There is really a need for these types of dogs and now people can train their dogs for therapy work and don’t have to travel far to get them certified.”
Training dogs has always been a way of life for Nicole. In fact, the walls of her canine training center are papered with ribbons of every hue that she has won over the years. At some point in her life, she has garnered ribbons and trophies with dogs in agility, obedience, conformation and in the German method of police dog training called Schutzhund. However, opening a canine facility was never her intention when she moved to Eagle River from Milwaukee a couple of years ago.
Nicole and her husband, Rich, were both in law enforcement careers when they decided to leave the big city behind and move to the Northwoods. “We purchased a cabin up here a few years back and were coming up here for vacations for years,” said Nicole. “We both love this area, so decided to make it our home.”
While Nicole continued working with her dogs, which include a border collie named Dare, Stewie the papillon, and an English cocker spaniel named InuYasha, she never dreamed of running a dog training center. That is, until she started thinking about another career once she and Rich were settled in the Northwoods.
The couple found a small building for rent on the south side of Eagle River and was surprised at how fast they quickly outgrew it. “I found there was really a need for a place where people could train their dogs,” said Nicole. “My classes filled up almost immediately.”
Then she moved to her current facility on Hwy. 45, which is conveniently located next to French’s Homestead Veterinary Care. Now Nicole offers not only canine training sessions, but doggie day care and even overnight care.
Becoming certified to be a therapy dog tester is not an easy feat. While Nicole had all the experience as far as training canines go, she had to pass a qualification review that involved a thick pile of paperwork including references, resumes and other commendations. In fact, the first time she applied, the organization turned her down. “It was a disappointment at the time, but we had just moved up here and TDI wanted to make sure that I was going to continue to do dog therapy work,” she said. “I kind of stomped my feet about it and then I met Nancy, who encouraged me to try again.”
So Nicole waited a few months to get more therapy dog experience in the Northwoods and just recently was accepted as a TDI therapy dog trainer and certifier. “I sort of dreaded filling out all that paperwork again, but it was all worth it,” she said. “Thanks to Nancy and other therapy dog owners, the need up here is phenomenal. People are calling all the time asking for a therapy dog visit. We were getting to the point that we were running low on qualified dogs to go.”
Dogs trained to do therapy work must also pass a rigorous test to qualify. Basic obedience is paramount and they have to complete tasks like leaving a tasty treat on the floor and calmly stay with a stranger while their owner walks out of the room. Some dogs are cut out for this work, while others don’t really enjoy it. “A dog has to be friendly with people,” said Nicole. “Dogs that are shy aren’t going to be happy doing therapy work.”
Therapy dogs are often confused with service dogs, which are trained to lead blind people or work with individuals in wheelchairs. “Therapy dogs just bring happiness,” Nicole said. “They call it Paws for Love.”
Nicole and Rich are both delighted to be living in the Northwoods now, and Nicole is especially happy with her new career teaching owners how to have a more satisfying life with their canine friends. “Therapy dogs can make such a difference in the lives of people, whether they are a child learning to read, a patient in the hospital or a nursing home resident,” she said. “I’m just glad I can be part of making it easier for people in this area to get their dogs certified in therapy work. The need is truly there and there is no better way to make people feel better than bringing in a therapy dog for a visit. It can change a person’s life forever.”
To find out more about TDI or training dogs, call Nicole at (715) 479-4900.