Animal Assisted Therapy

A therapy dog is not an assistance dog: those are trained for specific tasks such as to help with sight or hearing, to indicate the onset of seizures, to support an autistic child, etc. "Therapy dog" is a general term to describe a dog that is used to benefit people in a therapeutic way. This may be simply as a result of their calming and de-stressing presence or their unconditional acceptance being experienced as nurturing. Their ability to pick up on mood and to respond empathically is uncanny and much more finely tuned than that of a human.

Within counselling the following benefits have been identified:

  • Physical contact with an animal is proven to lower blood pressure and release endorphins.
  • The presence of a calm and affectionate animal simply in the room can offer support and comfort as you work with grief or distress.
  • This calming and de-stressing effect can be enhanced by stroking, cuddling or just sitting with a therapy dog.
  • Some clients relate to the therapy dog in such a way that the therapy dog becomes their expressive medium.
  • The therapy dog will often offer comfort, affection, protection or some interaction before the client has become fully aware of an emerging feeling.
  • A therapy dog can help to facilitate connection with those who struggle to communicate.
  • Where there has been a lack of childhood attachment, the presence of trauma, or emotional, behavioural, social and learning challenges a person can often feel alienated, isolated and uncontactable. Dogs seem able to cross these barriers.

 

Within a school setting the following benefits have been identified:

  • Therapy dogs' presence has a calming, de-stressing effect because
    • of the aforementioned biological factors of lowering blood pressure and releasing endorphins.
    • it engenders a caring and nurturing response in the young people towards the therapy dogs.
  • Therapy dogs' presence can help with attendance, especially where there is a child who struggles to come to school. Visits of a therapy dog can change how the child experiences school.
  • They can be used as an incentive to reaching goals, e.g. 10 minutes one-to-one time with the dog. This might be grooming the dog, having a cuddle, or working at obedience training under the handler’s guidance. The child may not have experienced anything as rewarding as asking a dog to sit or lie down and having it obey and being able to give a little treat.
  • Children who have difficulty making relationships with other children and with adults often find it easier to relate to a dog. Children can benefit emotionally, and develop empathy and awareness of others through their relationship with a therapy dog.
  • Dogs are being used to help improve literacy skills. In childhood education, Mary Renck Jalongo points out " It might be less stressful for a child to read aloud to a dog than to a teacher or peer. After all, a dog won't judge or correct you. " this can build confidence in being able to read out loud.
  • In addition, most children just really enjoy interaction with dogs and puppies.

Bramble and Laurel

Bramble and Laurel are 3 year old Cockapoos part way through their training as therapy dogs.

Cockapoos are in the top 6 breeds suitable as therapy dogs, because of the Cocker Spaniel temperament which is patient, friendly and gentle, and the intelligence and trainability of the Poodle. This fun-loving, cross breed is small enough to sit on a lap, yet large enough to be groomed and interactive with people. They are known to be happy, characterful dogs.

They are hypoallergenic dogs as they do not moult and, as these girls were researched and chosen for this role, since they came to us at 8 weeks old they have been accustomed to daily washing and brushing and 6-weekly visits to a professional dog groomer. This ensures a high level of hygiene and makes the dogs amenable to being handled or groomed by a client or a child under supervision.

Obedience training began at 8 weeks old under guidance of an experienced professional dog trainer and behaviourist. A lot of time has been invested in them being widely socialized to a broad range of people, other animals and environments.

Bramble and Laurel have been making regular visits to Coal Clough Academy in Burnley over the last year. I am grateful to the pupils and staff, who have been part of their training and socialising process. They have taken to it easily as they wander the classroom, taking time for a cuddle or to shake paws for a treat, or enter into a game.

For the past year, due to the generosity of many supervisees, Bramble and Laurel have become accustomed to being in the counselling room and learning that this is a different environment and a place of work. Over recent months they have supported clients (at the client's request) and their effect has been quite profound.

All this said, I wasn’t quite prepared for the therapeutic impact of these two little beings on my life. The everyday walks in the park, the funny antics and hilarious moments at home and in the garden (I laugh out loud every day), the never ending supply of cuddles and affection and their constant joy every single time they see me even when I’m having an ‘off’ day. They have done much to improve my health and quality of life and the experience of learning to work together as a team is utterly awe-inspiring, fascinating, humbling, and moving and another wonderful learning curve which I didn’t expect this far into my working life

They have recently acquired their own twitter and Instagram presence as way to record and capture their lives as fledgling therapy dogs alongside me in my work.

If you would like more information or you would like to explore how Bramble and Laurel may help in your own situation, please contact me.