Collecting Performance Dog Titles is Fun

Author and Truman Blue Awarded Farm Dog Certification

Truman Blue is the “most funnest” dog I have ever had. Training dogs is rewarding on so many levels, the most important being training teaches you and your dog to communicate with each other. The least important is brag rights, but that’s fun too.

The Gestalt theory, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, is exemplified in the relationship between a human and dog. There is power in tricks and skills.

The first trick I remember teaching a dog, I learned from watching Rin-Tin-Tin. I was six years old and taught my basenji-fox terrier mix to attack my merciless older brother. “Get him!” Fortunately, the dog just nipped. I don’t think my parents believed my brother who claimed their adorable six-year-old daughter would or could do such a thing. Suffice to say that my brother no longer teased me when Frankie-dog was with me.

When I was nine, my dachshund and I received a blue ribbon at a “family fair dog show” because he sat more quickly than any other dog. It was the beginning of my interest in performance events.

I entered adulthood looking for ways to better connect with my dogs. I showed in conformation classes, and obedience classes, but they were not the best fit for me. I did put champion and obedience titles on two fox terriers, and four obedience titles on my two Siberian huskies, but wanted something different.

When I trained my first therapy dog, Leala, something clicked. Truman Blue is my third certified therapy dog, and my first crisis response dog. I enjoy serving my community by comforting people with my dogs. If feels right.

I also learned the fun of dog tricks, and teaching with all positive reinforcement. I start out by watching my dogs, observing their natural inclinations. Teaching them to watch and listen to me is rewarding for the dog and the human.

Over the years, AKC changed its face from a purebred dog organization to an organization that supports dogs. Truman Blue is an AKC registered All American (AKA mutt), a Labrador-Bloodhound with a dash of pit, boxer and some middle eastern hound. He is an AKC registered PAL.

We have had loads of fun putting AKC titles on him. He is titled SWN THD CGC FDC TKA, and although it is not AKC recognized, certified crisis response dog. He has also acted in a stage drama. Our next title will be CGCU (Canine Good Citizen – Urban). What those titles show is that we have fun together. We have trained a lot, traveled some, taught each other, and comforted each other. (see below for title explanations)

Although I taught tricks to all my dogs as I journeyed around the sun, I really learned about the dog human connection about five years ago, when Truman became part of my family. I read Kyra Sundance’s “101 Dog Tricks” and read several books about dog’s intelligence levels including Stanley Coren’s “How Dogs Think,” “The Intelligence of Dogs,” and “How to Speak Dog, and Gregory Bern’s “How Dogs Love Us.”

I have always loved dogs but over the years working with my dogs, I have learned how much my dogs love me, especially Truman Blue.

How do you determine what tricks or skills to start teaching to your dog? Watch what they love to do and work with it. What would you teach Bear as his first trick?

Truman Blue titles

  • SWN – Scent Work Novice -means he passed three tests in each of four categories
    • Containers
    • Buried
    • Interior
    • Exterior
  • THD – Therapy Dog (AKC) – means he has visited as a comfort therapy dog at least 50 times
  • CGC – Canine Good Citizen – means he has passed a test that shows he is a good dog around other people and dogs
  • FDC – Farm Dog Certification – means he has passed a test that shows he is a good dog around farm complexities
  • TKA – Trick Dog Advanced – means he has passed the novice, intermediate and advanced level tricks with increased difficulty at each level.
  • Certified Therapy Dog – means he has passed a test that shows he is able and willing to comfort people in controlled settings
  • Certified Crisis Response Dog – means he has passed the training and test that shows he can comfort people in chaotic disaster situations.
dogs, old dogs

Homemade Yummy Dog Medicine Ball Treats

I’m not destitute, but I hate to waste money. Even more than that, I hate to shove pills down my dog’s throat twice a day.

Stormy doesn’t like store-bought pill covers unless I put one pill in each cover. That would mean 6 covers a day and at $10 for 30 covers it would cost me $50 a month to purchase them. My homemade pill covers cost about $2.50 a month.

I can put all the pills into one homemade medicine ball and Stormy begs for her furosemide. Stormy is on the right in the photo expectantly waiting for her treat. (Truman Blue in the middle, and old Leala Bear on the left.)

It takes about 20 minutes to make the medicine balls. The size may need to be adjusted for smaller dogs, but Stormy who weighs 65 pounds can easily swallow a 1″ loaded medicine ball without chewing. The trick is to make the biggest ball the dog will swallow whole. Test several sizes until you find the right one.

Dog Medicine Ball Recipe (pill covers)

1 can smelly loaf dog food, mostly meat (I use American Journey Limited Ingredient Lamb Sweet Potato)

1 2/3 cup oat flour (don’t use wheat, but your dog may prefer other types of flour)

1 1/3 cup almond or pumpkin seed flour (start with 1 cup add more if dough is sticky)

Mix all ingredients with a fork in a bowl until smooth. If it is sticky, add more flour until the dough is still pliable but is not sticky.

Roll into about 60, 1” balls (or the size your dog can swallow whole)

Store 5 days worth of balls in a sealed container in the fridge

Freeze the remaining balls (on a flat pan not touching 1 hour, then into a freezer bag for storage)

Thaw enough balls for 5 days at a time.

Important Hints

When you go to put the meds in, flatten the ball, put the meds on the flattened ball, then reform it into a ball. BUT do not touch the outside of the ball with the fingers that handled the meds.

Before you start using loaded medicine balls, It is best to “trick” the dog by teaching him/her how delicious the balls are with ½ balls with no meds. (They love to be tricked like this.)

At each medication, I sacrifice one ball. I divide it in half, and give my two non-medicated dogs each ½ a ball before I give the loaded ball to the dog that needs the meds. (note the three expectant faces in the first photo). Alternatively, you could give your medicated dog an unloaded half before giving the medicated ball


Sadness to Smiles: Job Description for a Crisis Response Dog

Job Description of a Crisis Response Dog

Reports To: Certified Handler, who may feel weepy, overwhelmed, and tired.

Job Overview: Responsible for raising the spirits of people whose lives have been dramatically changed by devastating circumstances, without saying a word.

-Success is Measured By:

  • The number of sad faces turned to smiles
  • The number of hearts warmed for an instant
  • The number of humans provided with a moment of normalcy


  • Approach hundreds of strangers who may be at the lowest points of their lives
  • Offer a warm furry body to provide comfort through the sense of touch
  • Care about humans with every fiber of your body
  • After comforting people you don’t know, comfort your handler


  • Education & Certification
    • Obedience trained (CGC level)
    • Therapy Dog registered
  • Abilities
    • Ability to ignore food left on the floor, even if it smells really good and you are hungry
    • Ability to maintain composure around forklifts, people yelling, crying babies, boxes falling, inclement weather, big trucks revving engines, sirens, airplanes and other chaotic noises
    • Ability to endure hugs around the neck
    • Ability to endure boredom while handler chit-chats with other humans
  • Skills
    • On all types of footing, walk on a leash without pulling
    • Sit when told
    • Down when told
    • Stay when told

Physical Characteristics

  • Be a dog
Truman Blue at a disaster distribution center. Crisis response dog support staff as well as victims.


Can You Still?

It was the first time since COVID. It’s a catch phrase with a new global understanding. It’s a phrase signifying as humans we collectively went through a change in our universe. We all wonder if we can still do “it”, whatever “it” may be.

Saturday, Truman Blue started back doing therapy visits at the hospital. In the past year and a half, he had done two crisis response visits but no regularly scheduled therapy visits. I wondered if he would still enjoy it, or if during COVID seclusion he decided he wanted to be a homebody and prefer the routine of the backyard to the stresses of meeting new people who had expectations.

As a therapy dog handler, I am very conscientious of my dog’s feelings. I don’t want to be the handler who pushes the dog up to someone, only to keep riveting eye contact with my dog as it endures the caresses of a stranger. I have seen therapy dogs who look to their handler with an expression of “can I walk away now?”. In dog language, they inform the petter that they do not want to be perceived as a threat by repeatedly turn their heads and eyes to the side. The dogs yawn to relieve stress. I don’t want my dog to be stressed by doing therapy visits.  

So, I arrived at the hospital branch, apprehensive. I chose a dual-purpose parking space under a shady tree. When Truman got out of the car, his nose went up and he surveyed the area. After using the tree, he headed straight for the door of the building. That was a good sign.

When the activity director opened the door, Truman pulled forward to say hello and to be petted. Truman was on it. He visited patients, obviously enjoying their caresses. He did his tricks flawlessly. He was on it. He drew smiles from folks who weren’t feeling it when we arrived.

Truman still does it.