News from the Dog Days of Summer After a long sabbatical from blogging I return with exciting news that Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is back in my office. June 6th marked the first day of work for Dude the therapy dog. He is an energetic and joyful Portuguese Water Dog who is sure to brighten your day, he always brightens mine. Dude is also my companion animal (a.k.a. pet).
Therapy dog training is the long but fun process of forming a team between the owner/handler and the dog. Dude had some fits and starts at school, finishing the puppy and basic obedience classes easily but needing a bit more practice to move on to advanced work. I needed extra practice too with simplifying his commands, apparently sometimes I talk too much! Ultimately we figured out the teamwork and he earned his Good Citizenship Award in the winter of 2017. I continued informal training at home to help Dude mature through some of his puppy mischief so he could be a calmer co-therapist at the office. We are currently only doing our teamwork at the office, but I hope we can also respond to community needs as they arise in 2019.
If you are not familiar with Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) it is when a trained animal is Incorporated into the therapy session. Dude and I partner with a client to work on predetermined goals to reduce symptoms, and build social and emotional skills. Having a therapy dog in the office immediately makes clients smile and feel more comfortable. Children and adults are soothed by petting Dude’s soft curly coat while they talk through difficult emotions. Dude is a predictable part of Wednesday sessions for now, and may increase his hours in the future. Some clients intentionally schedule Wednesday appointments so they can benefit from time with Dude!
Fun Facts About Dude:
Dude is a two-and-a-half-year-old Portuguese Water Dog. Portuguese Water dogs are hypoallergenic, they do not shed or have dander. True to his breed, Dude especially enjoys water: bath time, sprinkler, and lake time at Tenkiller in the heat of our Oklahoma summer. Dude even loves ice cubes! He was recently featured in a MetroFamily article and so maybe that even makes him famous!
Why use AAT? Although therapy dogs are gaining in popularity and respect in a variety of settings the roots of AAT go back to the early 1600s with one of the founders of psychology, John Locke. He suggested that small pet animals aided in the social development of children, including empathy.
Psychologist Sigmund Freud often had his dog, a Chow-Chow named Jofi, in his office during therapy sessions. Freud observed that the presence of the dog helped children, adolescents, and adults. He was particularly impressed with the willingness of children and teens to talk openly about difficult issues when the dog was in the room. Freud originally brought his dog into the office for his own stress relief. I think he was onto something there!
What are the benefits of AAT? Research about the effectiveness of AAT is growing rapidly. Including trained animals in therapy is already proven to be effective in reducing aggression, decreasing cortisol, and improving social skills in children and reducing anxiety, depression, and loneliness in adults. Long term research is still needed, but benefits have also been found in work with attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Remembering Suki I originally began Animal Assisted Therapy with my dog Suki in 2008. Suki was a wonderful addition to my practice and a comfort to clients and our family until her death in 2015. Grieving Suki and assisting children in my practice to grieve her loss gave renewed energy to completing my book Suki and Sam. It is a story about the relationship between a young artist and her beloved dog. Suki and Sam shows children how to grieve well, and hopefully sparks communication in families about how all living things die–and that love lives forever. For more information about my book click here.
How has a companion animal made your life better? Please comment with the name of your special furry friend and something about your bond!