What is Dog-Assisted Therapy?
Dog-assisted therapy is an emotional and behavioral therapy that has the potential to work wonders in improving a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Dogs can be very useful for educational and motivational effectiveness.
They don’t call dogs “man’s best friend” for nothing. Dogs have a strong positive emotional effect on humans; dogs also love to be led by someone, and express this by giving their owners unconditional love. Therapy dogs use this special connection and their special training to establish lines of communication with patients that may have been impossible to establish otherwise; dog-assisted therapy can significantly enhance patients’ healing processes.
Numerous studies have shown that just having a dog close to you, as well as playing or walking with the dog, may reduce stress, increase physical activity, help treat depression and anxiety, and calm and motivate people. Some of the population groups that benefit from the dog-assisted therapy are children with autism, behavioral problems and learning disabilities, youth at-risk, people with emotional problems, elderly people at retirement homes, people with addictions, individuals suffering from PTSD, and those in need of rehabilitation of any kind. Dog-assisted therapy can be effective in almost any type of therapeutic activity.
Besides the therapeutic aspects, dog-assisted therapy provides the patient with valuable tools, by developing an individual’s strength and sensitivity, responsibility and self-discipline. By giving the dog an order, children learn to appreciate collaboration and responsiveness, while internalizing these qualities themselves and developing self-confidence, assertiveness and aptitude, along with a sense of self-esteem, unconditional love and many other emotional benefits.
Dog-assisted therapy can also be effectively used by clinical psychologists, social workers, as well as other therapists and instructors.
In one of his letters, the father of modern psychology, Sigmund Freud, described the effect his dog made during the therapy sessions he conducted for patients. He noticed that when his dog was present, patients showed signs of relaxation and transitioned from a sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system, i.e. went from the “fight-or-flight” response (anxiety, stress, tension) into the state of relaxation and openness. Many therapists incorporate dogs in their sessions.
Dog-assisted therapy is a relatively new but rapidly developing field. The scientific validity of the field is also increasing; each year more research is being conducted regarding dog-assisted therapy. In Israel, Dogs for People is theoldest and largest organization engaged in dog-assisted therapy.
Dogs and People – Background
Dogs have been around men for thousands of years. They are excellent guards and shepherds, and faithful companions. On top of that, dogs have a powerful and positive emotional impact on humans. Dogs give their caregivers unconditional love, do not judge them, and ignore other aspects of human appearance that people address. Communicating with dogs is simple and direct, with no innuendos or subtexts. These two major qualities actually make them great healers – when treated and guided to act as such. That has led to a relatively new branch of therapy and treatment known as dog-assisted therapy.
Dog-Assisted Therapy (DAT) does not settle for dog’s presence as a relaxing factor, but also provides daily practices and exercises that can improve patients’ physical, mental, coordination, and gross- and fine-motor skills. Working with and caring for a dog helps people develop mental strength and stamina, sensitivity to others, a sense of responsibility, and self-discipline. When dogs are part of therapy, disabled and suffering individuals gain in confidence, become positively assertive, are empowered, gain in self-esteem, and learn to receive and give unconditional love regardless of their own physical state.
Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, believed that that dogs have the ability to read people’s emotional states and are great judges of character. He reported that his dog, Jofi, could assess his patient’s mental states: she would lie relatively near a patient if the patient was calm, but kept her distance when the patient was anxious. He felt that in the presence of dogs, patients switch from their sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system – that is, moving away from the “fight-or-flight” state of reaction to stress and becoming calmer and more relaxed and open. Numerous studies have shown that walking, playing with, and even just being around dogs helps reducing mental anxieties and stress, promotes physical activity, relaxes, and even motivates people.
In DFM, where the foundations of DTI were created, we employ dogs when working with children on the autistic spectrum, as well as children with behavioral issues, learning impairments, and emotional problems; as well as PTSD patients, the elderly in nursing homes, and others in their rehabilitation process.
DAT is relatively new, particularly in Israel, but it is becoming increasingly more scientifically valid. DFP is presently the largest and most veteran organization of this kind in Israel.
Dog-assisted therapy leads to the establishment of a special relationship between the patient and his/her animal, which allows for effective healing, mutual development and growth.
Our special “Dog-Time” method involves collaboration, during which time the dog will be trained and prepared for various competitions by the patient. This training is beneficial and significant for the dog, while also presenting an amazing opportunity for the patient. Training also allows the animal and its trainer to establish a unique method of communication, which gives them an opportunity to learn and understand each other, as well as develop greater self-awareness.
Interaction with a dog connects children with the world
Dog-assisted therapy is adjusted for various people, age groups and situations; we work with youth at-risk, special education institutions, children with learning disabilities and hyperactivity, people with special needs, elderly people, trauma victims, etc.
Dog-assisted therapy proves its efficiency time after time, while providing an enjoyable experience to anyone who takes part in this process. Despite the fact that in Israel this method was recognized only in recent years, it has been widely implemented all over the world for hundreds of years.
The DogTime™ Treatment Model
Dog-Assisted Treatment opens the gates of healing, promotes personal evolvement, and leads to common growth.
In our unique DogTime™ treatment model, humans and animals work together for a common goal. Our dogs are not mere comforting and furry pets, but real partners in a process of empowerment and achievement. Here, patients and dogs train together for national and international agility competitions. On the surface, this is our goal. Behind the scenes, this is a wonderful therapeutic tool. Here, our patients become dog trainers and dogs are trained to perform when instructed. Such goal-oriented training primarily leads to a unique kind of communication between animal and trainer. Learning to work with dogs this way, patients need to develop a higher level of self-awareness that is wonderfully applicable in life.
The DogTime™ treatment method is uniquely flexible. It can be tailored to the needs of individuals at various conditions, and the first order of business – after meticulous diagnosis – is to find a matching dog for them (we currently have some 100 dogs in our kennel). Next, we find the training course and method that suits both dog and its assigned “amateur trainer”. Work is closely supervised by professional dog trainers, sociologists, psychologists, and other caregivers.
For nearly 15 years, Dogs for People Association has been applying its unique method of engaging dogs in assisting special populations. Using the DogTime™ treatment method, DFP’s DogTime Institute has so far educated hundreds of such amateur trainers and thousands therapy dogs. Additionally, DTI has been extensively researching this field and, unlike many other centers that train guide dogs to assist only physically disabled people, our dogs are trained to assist adults and children with autism and mental disorders, youths at-risk, and many other population groups. Over the years of our activity, we realized that the therapeutic impact of dog-assisted therapy improves patients’ cognitive, social, and mental skills and interactions. Such therapy further helps patients develop an ability to proportionally accept both success and failure, and daily improves their moods. Our groundbreaking DogTime™ method was developed by Mr. Paul Elmakias and has already attracted global interest and local demand for our dogs.
The DogTime™ 4-Stage Cycle of Giving
Stage 1 – Rescuing Dogs
In the first stage of our Cycle of Giving, we collect dogs slated for termination from shelters and pounds. We save and nurture them, preparing them for a new life of service. We started out with only four dogs. Presently, we have some 100 working dogs our well-kept kennel.
Stage 2 – Mutual Rehabilitation
Trained by expert trainers in collaboration with youths and children of special needs, our dogs themselves are rehabilitated and healed. The children undergo positive emotional and behavioral changes as they care for and give to the dogs, who learn to trust and cooperate with humans. As both dogs and patients learn to trust and care for others, they also learn about setting goals, discipline, and boundaries. Once trained, our dogs are ready for new homes, while children find a purpose in life and avoid self-mutilation and other destructive behaviors.
Stage 3 – Healing with Dogs
Our rehabilitated and well-trained dogs are employed in healing activities all over Israel, working together with our experienced trainers and youth guides.
These activities are based on the DogTime™ Model as developed by Association Chairman Paul Elmakias. It is applied in our projects, where we work with various populations that suffer from autism, emotional problems, concentration and attention deficits, various degrees of retardation, PTSD and PDD, mental and sexual abuse, and so on. We also work with youths at risk and elderly populations, helping them find their place in society.
Stage 4 – Finding Homes for Dogs
After our dogs complete their “term of service” and their contribution to our dog community is done, we find loving homes for them. At this stage, the dogs are house-trained, rehabilitated, and people-friendly, which makes them perfectly suitable as companions for people and greatly improves their chances of starting new and happy lives.
Dog-assisted therapy objectives
• Providing tools to handle difficulties, frustrations and stressful situations, often occurring as a result of learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, etc.
• Providing physical activity adjusted for people with different disabilities and those using wheelchairs, while integrating mental abilities, motion and dog training.
• Improving the patient’s mood and helping him/her experience the joy of life.
• Improving gross and fine motor skills.
• Acquiring and improving self-confidence.
• Acquiring communication skills.
Dog-assisted therapy dogs
The “Dogs For People” Association trains thousands of dog trainers and therapy dogs. For almost 15 years, the association has been applying its unique method of engaging dogs in assisting special populations. The Association has been extensively researching this field and in contrast to many other places, where guide dogs are assisting physically disabled people only, Dogs for People trained dogs are prepared to assist people with autism and mental disorders, as well as youth at-risk and any other population. Dog-assisted therapy not only focuses on the dog’s presence as a calming factor, bu the dog also serves as daily practice for improving the patient’s physical abilities. Physical activities done with the dogs helps promote the patients’ gross and fine motor skills development and improve their coordination. In addition, over the years we have noticed the therapeutic impact dog-assisted therapy has on the improvement of patients’ abilities on the cognitive, social and mental levels; the therapy also allows patients to develop the ability to proportionally accept both success and failure, and helps them improve their mood on a daily basis.
This groundbreaking method was developed by Mr. Paul Elmakias, leading to increased global interest and demand for assistance dogs.