CANINE ASSISTED THERAPY
Why Canine Therapy?
We are fortunate to have three therapy dogs who work with clients — Loki, Effie, and Watson are co-therapists of sorts. Research indicates that the addition of animals to the therapeutic process promotes stronger attachment, empathy, catharsis, higher cognitive functioning, problem solving, and the facilitation of social skills.
The use of Animal Assisted Therapy is completely optional and the client is under no obligation to have my canine companion in his or her session. Canine therapy targets areas major areas including but not limited to:
- Attachment and Relationship
- Self Regulation
- Problem Resolution
Who Can It Benefit?
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Antisocial behavior disorders (oppositional defiant and conduct disorders)
- Anxiety Disorders
- At-Risk Youth
- Attention-deficit hyperactive disorders
- Autism-spectrum disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Dissociative Disorders
- Down’s Syndrome
- Eating Disorders
- Emotional Disturbance Disorders
- Learning Disabilities
- Pervasive Development Disorders
- Speech Language Pathologies
- Survivors of Sexual Abuse
What Does A Typical Session Look Like
Canine-Assisted Therapy is the incorporation of a dog into a talk therapy or play therapy counselling session. In a play therapy session, a dog increases the opportunities for tracking behaviours and reflecting feelings. The canine acts as a co-therapist by engaging in the process to help improve the child’s emotional health. The dog may take an active or passive role in the session. Thompson (2009) describes a typical canine-assisted play therapy session as follows:
The therapist often makes reflective tracking statements to the therapy dog instead of directly to the child. This incorporation of another living being into the session allows the child to better accept the tracking of feelings and behaviors.
For example, the therapist may say to the therapy dog, “Johnny is having a hard time deciding what he wants to play with next” or “Johnny seems frustrated with that thing today.” Often the children respond to tracking from the dog more than from the therapist. We also use the value of fantasy in the pet play sessions.
The therapist may pretend the therapy dog has a question to ask of the child or has a feeling or emotion to something the child may have said or done in the session. For example, the therapist may say to the child, “Razz wonders what happened to that doll” or “Razz is worried about how difficult school has been for you this week.” This seems to be less threatening to the child and often allows for a response from the child.
The use of the dog may also provide a platform for children to learn to exercise control his or her environment through the use of obedience training. Through directive and non-directive means, the interactions with the canine can help foster a child’s social skills, decrease aggressive behaviours, increase the ability to emotionally self regulate, and offer an opportunity to foster attachment by connecting to another living thing.