Although the standard says ‘sensibly suspicious’ of strangers, a well socialized Puli can, and does, make an excellent therapy dog. It helps to start very young and introduce the pup to as many people and situations as possible. The Puli must be OK with strangers touching and petting them, possibly even pulling his cords. It’s important that he be friendly without jumping, growling or nipping…all of which are behaviors that come naturally to a Puli so we are working against instinct. However, with positive reinforcement (and treats) it can be accomplished through patience and perseverance.
Basic training is a necessity and some therapy dog clubs offer classes before testing. Secondary training will involve familiarity around medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, crutches hospital beds and elevators as well as dealing with obstreperous patients.There are several national organizations such as Therapy Dogs International and the Alliance of Therapy Dogs which have their own requirements and tests. Depending on where you live (in the USA) there may be local animal therapy organizations that you can investigate and join if their mission is suited to your goals. On Cape Cod there is an organization called the Companion Animal Program that has Pulis in their program and they are wonderful ambassadors of our breed, spreading joy and smiles wherever they go.
It is vitally important that your Puli be bathed and groomed before a therapy visit. Considering the long corded coat, this is, as you well know, a major commitment. However, being able to share your Puli with folks at nursing homes, hospitals, senior centers, group homes and library reading programs for the young has rewards that will outweigh the work involved and always put a smile on your face.
The AKC Therapy Dog Program awards a title and certificate to dogs who have accomplished 50 documented visits. For more information go to: AKC Therapy Dog Program