Puppy at Victim Services to train as trauma dog

By Sara Faruqi, Toronto Police Service Published: 2 p.m. February 13, 2015
Updated: 4:20 p.m. February 13, 2015

Bobbie McMurrich has been trying for a long time to get a trauma dog for Victim Services. This Christmas her wish came true.

A woman holding a dog, with the dogs heads resting on her shoulder, the woman's back is to the camera while you can see the dogs face.
Dandy, a three-month-old puppy is being trained by Victim Services to act as a trauma dog for clients.

Three-month-old Dandy is a Labrador being trained to become a trauma dog. She can be seen around Headquarters looking adorable, playful or sleepy on most days. 

McMurrich got the idea a few years ago when her father was admitted to a hospice. The hospice had a therapy dog for patients and visitors. McMurrich realized then how powerful it was to have an animal around. “People in their last stages of life got a spark in their eyes,” when the therapy dog would be around, recalls McMurrich. The animal provided comfort and relieved stress, says the Director of Programs at Victim Services. 

Similarly at Victim Services, clients are going through tough times, says McMurrich.”A lot of our clients are experiencing sadness or loss (and)… dogs provide such unconditional love and comfort.”

In her research to acquire a dog, McMurrich realized any breed could work but Labradors in particular, were the ultimate family dogs. “They have an even, gentle nature,” explains McMurrich, which is why she chose Dandy.

Dandy has now started her training and so has McMurrich, “I’m learning right alongside her,” she says about the training process for the puppy. 

First up is to get Dandy conditioned to the workplace. McMurrich tries to bring her in to work three to four times a week. “As a puppy we are conditioning her to be around different people, large crowds, noises and even different surfaces.”

A woman kneeling next to a labrador puppy
Bobbie McMurich, Director of Programs at Victim Services Toronto is training Dandy to become a trauma dog.

The presence of a dog has a calming influence for people experiencing high stress like victims of crime and sudden tragedies.

To help train Dandy, McMurrich is taking puppy training classes – these are different from trauma dog training courses. For her work as a trauma dog Dandy is being trained with the help of Thames Service Dogs. Thames has given McMurrich a list of initial training methods for Dandy. “They have given me a series of things to do with her,” explains McMurrich. 

While Dandy has reacted well to all training, McMurrich says they haven’t yet set up a mock trauma situation for the puppy. “We have to have a mock trauma situation where someone is being verbal and loud,” explains McMurrich, which she hopes to do soon.  In the meantime McMurrich is waiting for the puppy’s training service dog vest to arrive – with the vest on Dandy is legally allowed to access a lot more buildings and locations. 

McMurrich is also working on developing a trauma dog manual for the staff at Victim Services and hopes to get other staff members to work alongside Dandy soon. 

According to McMurrich there are only three trauma dogs working with police services in Canada. The most famous is Hawk, who works at the Calgary Police Service. Yet there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest the help a trauma dog can provide to victims, explains McMurrich. “The presence of a dog has a calming influence for people experiencing high stress like victims of crime and sudden tragedies."

McMurrich also hopes to make Dandy available for officers, especially when the internal peer support program is activated. 

 It will take a year before Dandy can be fully trained to become a trauma dog, but in the meantime, McMurrich says Dandy is around for anyone in the Service. 


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