Colin’s K-9 Companion trains therapy dogs and helps people with developmental disabilities such as autism learn how to interact with dogs. (Video: Michael Israel)
Training Kelly helped Colin build up his self-confidence, and it attracted girls over to talk to Colin. Colin always had self-confidence, but Kelly helped him with his interpersonal relationship skills and communication skills by enabling him to speak with even more people. Colin loves socializing with people, and Kelly brought people into Colin’s life that he would never have met if he never started training Kelly. Colin loved both of the benefits that training Kelly brought to him. Now that he is happily married, it is the only self-confidence provided by training therapy dogs that Colin seeks when continuing to train therapy dogs.
Colin Ottman brought Kelly into the VA hospital, and into a residential facility for people with mental health issues in order to provide counseling to people who needed a little extra help to open up about their problems. Colin Ottman said that “people were more willing to open up to help and talk about their problems and were more open to accepting assistance with their psychological issues when Kelly, his therapy dog, was present.” Ann Bergeman, a manager at a local mental health services agency, stated that “therapy dogs help people by showering them with unconditional love. Therapy dogs can help to lessen depression, anxiety, and PTSD.”
Joe, an autistic person who asked for his real name to not be used to maintain his anonymity, worked with Colin Ottman and Kelly.
Joe, a person with autism, describes working with Kelly a therapy dog that Colin Ottman trained. (Audio: Michael Israel)
Walking Kelly helped Joe emerge from his shell and start to interact with people. Before meeting Colin and Kelly, Joe kept to himself, walked in circles, and rocked. After engaging with Colin Ottman and Kelly, Joe calmed down and started to show signs of improved independence: cooking for himself, showing less fear around people, and engaging socially with other people. Mrs. Bergeman says, “therapy dogs provide a talking point and get people to interact socially with the autistic person. They can even warn people of impending seizures and help autistic people avoid dangerous situations.”
Colin Ottman trained with Kelly for six months in order to get her certified as a therapy dog. Colin had to get Kelly to stay in a painted circle on the floor while wearing a six-foot leash and teach Kelly not to react to over stimulation in order to make sure Kelly could handle providing therapy to large groups of people. Colin left Kelly at a nursing station and went away. Kelly got certified as a therapy dog because Kelly stayed at the desk and didn’t go looking for Colin or start barking. These things were part of the process to certify Kelly as a therapy dog. If Kelly ever showed any signs of aggression, she would lose her therapy dog certification. Because Kelly is certified as a therapy dog, she can live in any apartment without any extra fees or restrictions.
Kelly fell in love with Joe. Kelly would follow Joe around. People started to engage with Joe every time he walked Kelly. People engaging socially with Joe because the therapy dog helped Joe rapidly advance his social skills.
Interacting with animals helps autistic people become more social (Infographic: Michael Israel)
This interaction enabled Joe to emerge from his shell slowly. Colin taught Joe how to interact with dogs in the proper way; Colin helped Joe lose his unfounded fear of dogs. Joe said, “before I started working with Colin I was extremely fearful of dogs. After Colin taught me how to approach dogs and slowly introduced me to his therapy dogs, I lost all fear of dogs. Now that I understand dogs, I no longer fear them. It is because of Colin that I built up my confidence and put my unfounded fear of dogs to rest.”
Colin’s K-9 Companion helps to trains all types of dogs, including therapy dogs. Colin Ottman is a behaviorist who teaches people how to relate better to their dogs, and how to understand their dog’s needs better. Colin Ottman says, “in order to successfully train a dog it is important to become the alpha of the pack. I teach people who to become the alpha of their pack while still respecting their dog’s individuality. I teach people how to act around their dog because you cannot train a dog how to act around people you have to train the person how to act, and the dog will follow suit.” Colin occasionally helps people with mental health issues learn how to properly engage with dogs so that they can work with therapy dogs. Colin Ottman can be reached at (585) 297-3141 for a consultation; he can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would rather communicate using e-mail. He also boards dogs and provides obedience training. Therapy dog training is a long and drawn out process that cannot be done overnight, and can only be done for dogs with the right disposition.
Colin helped Robin Griffard better relate to her dog. Robin had a year old Black Lab named Hank when Colin started helping her out. It is only because of Colin’s help that Robin was able to learn how to handle her dog. She tried other trainers but liked the way Colin interacted with her dog much better because Colin took the time to get to know her and her dog, and he worked with her one-on-one to make sure she understood how to interact with her dog. Colin let Hank and Emma play together because dogs are pack animals and need to interact with other dogs in order calm down. Being in a pack helps dogs listen to the alpha and also helps dogs learn how to behave better. Colin explained the concept of the pack and pack mentality to Robin, so Robin knew how to interact better with Hank. Colin uses a weighted backpack to help calm dogs down because the extra weight helps to calm down Hank’s anxiety. According to Colin, “walking solves 90% of the issues dogs have, and most people misunderstand the need to walk their dog.” The dog cannot just be let out into the yard to run around, the dog needs to be walked because walking your dog helps dogs understand their owner is the alpha, it is good exercise, and helps the dog learn how to listen to their owner. Colin wishes more people would read the books written by Cesar Millan or watch his videos so that they will better understand how to relate to dogs.
Kelly stopped providing therapy when she was ten years old because Colin moved from the area where she was providing therapy and Kelly was getting too old to climb the stairs. She still provides Joe with some therapy but is not taking on any new clients. She doesn’t know that she is retired and will still provide therapy if she encounters anyone she thinks needs a little extra help.
Emma is not yet providing therapy because she is still a puppy and is wild. She will be certified as a therapy dog as soon as she can calm down long enough pass the tests New York state requires of therapy dogs. Mrs. Bergeman says, “certification is essential to ensure the safety of both the dog and the people receiving therapy from the dog.” According to Mrs. Bergeman, “certification ensures that the dog can handle the stresses of the environment where the therapy is provided.” Kelly will still provide therapy to people who come and visit Kelly, but she is getting too old to make house calls. Colin Ottman still provides therapy to people who need help and is waiting until Emma burns off her puppy energy so that she can be trained to be a therapy dog; he continues to provide emotional support to both people and their dogs.