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What is dog-assisted therapy?

Therapy with assistance from our four-legged friends is becoming more and more popular. Contact with dogs provides people with a sense of security and relief - helps them to find joy and inner peace. The unconditional love that dogs have for humans has therapeutic influence on them, affecting the way that they see the world. Dogs help people fight depression and also support the proper development of children suffering from autism or other disorders.

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What is dog therapy?

Dog-assisted therapy has been known for centuries, but it’s only in recent times that this modality has been perceived by the scientific community as an actual form of therapy. Contact with dogs has a particularly positive effect on the psyche of children. Communing with pets teaches empathy to people, increases their sensitivity and promotes normal emotional development.

Therapy with a dog – for whom is it recommended?

Contact with dogs has a very positive effect on the human mind. This results among other things, from the unconditional acceptance offered by these animals, which reduces people’s feeling of loneliness or rejection. Dogs primarily help people struggling with mental problems, but not exclusively. They also can play a significant role in supporting the proper development of children as they attempt to understand the world around them.

Dog-assisted therapy is mainly focused on stimulating the senses and creating a feeling of security. During this therapy with dogs, people’s sense of sight, hearing and touch are awakened and developed. Exercises with pets are designed to strengthen concentration, mobility and proper physical activity. In addition, dog-assisted therapy is designed to familiarize people with the world around them – teach them responsibility and empathy. It is also worth mentioning that therapy based on constant contact with a dog is very good at developing speaking abilities in children who experience difficulties expressing themselves.

Therapy which is based on contact with dogs is especially recommended for children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other forms of cognitive disability. Dog-assisted therapy is also recommended for people suffering from schizophrenia, diabetes, and epilepsy. In older people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, contact with a dog helps to strengthen their sense of security and mental stability. These are just a few of the diseases that can be supported and made less onerous by the using dog therapy. However You should remember, that this type of therapy is primarily aimed at supporting a patient’s psyche.

Dog therapy step by step

Therapy programs are usually customized for each patient individually. This is essential as although individuals may share the same illness. No two people share exactly the same therapy-related needs. Attempts to unify different patients’ approach could turn out to be less effective. Before beginning therapy, children and their caregivers meet with therapists to discuss an appropriate schedule.

Dog-assisted therapy is divided into 3 main types:

  • Meeting with the dog (Dog Assisted Activities)

The basis of these activities is to create a relationship between the patient and the dog. Through contact with a dog their emotionality is intensively developing. They learn to commune with a dog, and grow in their sense of responsibility and empathy towards it. Satisfaction derived from building a strong bond with the dog positively influences one’s psyche, and way of perceiving the world.

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  • Education with a dog (Animal Assisted Education)

These classes are designed to motivate children and help them learn and gain knowledge more easily. Most often, these exercises are organized in kindergartens and schools. Children who participate in classes in the company of dogs are willing to learn and have an easier time absorbing the information.

Rehabilitation with a dog – Animal Assisted Therapy

This type of therapy is supporting rehabilitation through contact with a dog. After consulting a specialist, patients suffering from specific physical perform exercises that support their current treatment program. Rehabilitation accompanied by a quadruped animal stimulates and activates these individuals to act in different ways than they would follow a traditional exercise regime, offered by a physiotherapist.

The effectiveness of dog-assisted therapy depends on many factors. Unfortunately we will never be able to fully predict its final effects. Time plays a very important role here, as with any other forms of therapy. Systematic exercises, and a conscientious approach to the matter, are crucial factors in ensuring that the treatment has positive effects.

The beginning of dog therapy is usually the most difficult phase of the whole process. The first contact with a dog is often a shock. Therefore under no circumstances can patients be forced to immediately accept the dog. After conducting a series of conversations with the patient’s caregivers, the therapists try to choose the right dog. In many cases it is crucial for the success or failure of the therapy as a whole. In order to ensure that treatment is successful, the therapy leader will decide if a change of dog is needed.

If the patient finds it difficult to make contact with the dog, under no circumstances should he be forced to do so. We must remember that dogs have their own character and personality. It may happen that the nature of the dog and the patient are simply too different, blocking the success of the therapy.

The effects of dog-assisted therapy are visible after about two months, however, this is a very approximate timeline. Therapy with a dog is a specific way of fighting mental and psychological problems. The final results are difficult to assess before the beginning of the therapy class. When deciding to take up dog therapy, we should keep in mind that it is a form of treatment that requires a lot of time, patience, and motivation.

What is a therapy dog like?

Choosing a dog that fits to take part in dog therapy is never accidental. First of all, the temperament and character of the dog breed matters a lot. It is important that the dog is eager, has a good attitude, and is willing to cooperate with a human. The choice of dog falls most often on breeds that are fast and easy learners, with strong intelligence.

It’s also important, however, that the chosen dog is gentle, and able to generate both sympathy and trust in the patient. Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, are the most frequently chosen dog breeds for participation in dog therapy. Their features are perfect for carrying out psychotherapy results.

Dogs taking part in therapy go through a mandatory training process. Through this training, they learn correct social norms and the appropriate patterns of behaviour for everyday situations. In addition, to make the whole therapy go well, the dog must enjoy it. Involuntary participation in dog therapy is harmful to the dog and should not take place under any circumstances.

Dog-assisted therapy & expected results

The purpose of dog therapy is to influence the proper development of self-awareness. Patients, through working with a dog, learn to socialize, build relationships and take responsibility for other people. They develop their interpersonal skills and ability to perceive the world around them. For many patients, changes in these areas of personality require intensive work, and dedication to a series of regular exercises.

Everyday contact with dogs produces positive effects in the lives of every human being. It helps people to open up to others, learn trust and build strong interpersonal relationships.

Having a dog in your life creates a world of unconditional love and happiness!

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