On Tuesday, we found pint-sized Punky, a Love Heels therapy dog, alongside her trainer Preston Turegano in a wheelchair around touring the halls of Nazareth House.
The team was working on a key skill for a therapy dog like Punky, who visits residents of care facilities like Nazareth House and the VA Hospital: acclimating to and pulling a wheelchair.
Here’s our interview with Preston about Punky’s training:
Q: What’s the goal of the training?
A: To get the dog used to the movement of the wheelchair and proximity of the chair next to a patient. Eventually, she should be able to pull the chair along if a patient can’t with his or her own feet.
Q: What are the steps?
A: Repeated exposure to the chair until the dog is comfortable. The same thing occurred with elevators. Repeated exposure at the VA Hospital La Jolla got her used to the vibration of an elevator and its doors.
Q: When did you start?
A: Jan. 7 was the first lesson. I think there will be another two or three weekly exposures.
Q: How is Punky doing?
A: She did better this week than the first time. Next week we will see if she will do it with someone other than me.
Q: How will this training help Punky as a therapy dog?
A: She’ll be versatile. Right now, she lets patients just pet her, either as they sit or if they ask for her to come up onto their bed.