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The Village of Bet Ezra near Ashdod City is home of the Dogs for People Association. For several years now, the village council has been operating a program for extracurricular afternoon activities for children. D4P has recently joined their activities, offering a unique Young Trainer program that helps children develop life skills such as leadership, sharing, cooperating, and assertiveness. As part of the program, the children have weekly dog-training sessions with the D4P professional trainers, working with the dogs on a variety of agility skills such as following orders, jumping over obstacles, or running through tunnels.
The dedicated staffers share the children’s efforts and success stories – and it is successful. The program – made possible thanks to the cooperation between the Regional Council’s Social Services Department, the Education Department, and the National Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority – climaxed when the Young Trainer graduates came back with a trophy from a national agility contest.
Dogs for People
Dogs for People is an association that specializes in bringing together dogs slated for termination from regional pounds (which D4P actually rescued) and youth and children at risk or with special needs. The encounters work miracles.
The association was established about a decade ago by Mr. Paul Elmakias, currently association chairperson. It is presently based at Bet Ezra. Asia Fabis is the woman in charge of the D4P dogs’ “hotel” services.
The Young Trainer Program is a unique project, designed for all populations, but mainly focuses on people with special needs and youths at risk. The special populations are treated by training dogs for canine sports events.
Participants are given tools with which to deal with their hardships, frustrations, and mental pressure that follows learning disabilities, attention disorders, and behavioral issues. As they partake in training the dogs for agility competitions, children grow happier, their motor skills improve, they gain in self-confidence, and their communication skills and techniques expand.
The D4P Association has for the past few years worked with the Program, engaging youths and children in quite a few locations in Israel.
Studies have shown that the presence of pets improves the mental and physical wellbeing of senior citizens. JDC – the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – has for the past several years conducted a program known as Petting Dogs, which is implemented by Eshel, a volunteer-based NPO that is dedicated to improving the quality of life of the elderly in homes and in their communities.
Volunteers and their friendly dogs visit senior citizen homes where the residents can spend time with these dogs, pet them, play with them, or walk them. Dogs easily give love in return, but their presence does not only give pleasure. Many tenants in such homes have reported experiencing improvements after meeting Pat Dogs that encouraged them to move, leave their rooms, join physiotherapy classes, take walks with the dogs, or just smile. In many cases, the fury visitors made older people who had lost their joy of life or desire to communicate or do things become active again, and satisfied
Who Are Our Pat Dogs?
Unlike the various service dogs – guide dogs, dogs trained to work with Alzheimer patients, guard and defense dogs, or dogs trained to find drugs or explosives – the Pat Dogs have never been “formally” trained. They have no special certificates, nor are they members of privileged races. They do, however, have skills of their own. Coming in all sizes, shapes, ages, and colors they are endowed with true personalities, empathy, a willingness to give attention, and always expect to be patted and caressed.
Thanks to these natural qualities, Pat Dogs can carry out several missions, some almost metaphysical, when they visit seniors’ homes. They can and do
Make the “institutional” atmosphere in those places less formal and heavy;
Make people smile and grow a little soften;
Make the elderly and even the most fatigued and frail more attentive;
Please the animal-lovers and entertain others, asking only pats in return;
Ease tensions and tone down obsessions;
Motivate tenants into action;
Bring back sweet memories;
Create opportunities for social interactions;
Give warmth and love in every language;
Ease their suffering, boredom, and loneliness with moments of fun and grace.
This list does not include all the virtues of patting a dog. Older people experience plenty of warm and pleasant feelings because dogs give love unconditionally, without judgment of any kind.
Visiting Homes for the Elderly
Different Homes are managed differently and thus Pat Dogs are incorporated according to the nature of the homes. The local staffers instruct visiting dogs and their trainers on their proper conduct and match the appropriate residents for such activities. Regardless of the tenants’ mental or physical condition, most of them would love to pat a dog and chat its owner. Still, Pat Dogs are most welcome by tenants who require close nursing and attention because they rarely leave their wards and are rarely occupied. They feel that patting a dog is an opportunity for some recreation time and contact. The volunteer who brings the dogs is also most welcome in those wards.
Visiting volunteers have several interaction options. They may stay in a certain ward or wing and spend time with every tenant there; walk around the place and let accidental encounters take place; offer dog patting as part of other regular activities there such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and so on; choose a spot – the lobby, a large terrace, or the yard – and dog-loving tenants meet them there; or individual and dedicated to one or two tenants, or to groups.
Certain homes want several volunteers and dogs to visit at the same time and if the dogs do not get along or the home management wants more tenants to enjoy the visit, trainers and pets are sent to visit several wards at the same time. Some volunteers visit the homes only once or twice a month with their dogs, while other find the time to drop by and say hello every day, or have a tenant (or several) join them in the daily walk. All such visits are coordinated with the Home staffers.
Connecting and Communicating
Dog-loving tenants approach the visiting dogs and volunteers without encouragement, while others may need help, particularly if they don’t move about independently. In any event, after several such visits, the dogs themselves feel at home and know where to go, who to approach, and what to do with them. So what do they do?
Talk: volunteers engage in conversations with the elderly. Such talks may start with discussions of animal rights, health, or legal status – for example. Tenants may reminisce about their pets of old, or anything else on their minds.
Playing and Training: Many tenants enjoy watching dogs perform clever tricks. If the dog knows how to fetch a ball, jump hoops, roll over, dance, pull a toy, and so on, volunteers can teach tenants how to give the necessary orders. In more advanced situations, the elderly tenants may take part in training the dog by, for example, holding a hoop, throwing a ball, or rewarding the obedient dog. If the home and tenants conditions permit that, the elderly could take dogs on leash (preferably while the trainer holds another leash).
Grooming the Dogs: Many veterans love grooming the visiting dogs, brush their hair or teeth, cut their nails, or even wash them.
These activities may be photographed or videotaped for the tenants and the homes.
.All over the world, people consider dogs their best friends. The two species became closer over the years and learned to live in symbiosis where one helps the other – people offer dogs nutrition, shelter, and protection; dogs offer security and guarding services and a sense of belonging; and both species give each other love.
Medical studies for a BA degree require that the students choose a treatment method. The treatment of humans with the help of dogs is one of the most interesting methods presently on the curriculum of select schools. Given the basic relations between Men and dogs, the attachment that forms and the sense of mutual protection and friendship, many symptoms and problems can be treated better than with other methods. These treatment methods can often provide healing solutions when Western medicine is unable to solve problems with surgery or chemistry.
Japanese studies have shown the patting dogs or staring into their eyes helps the human body release oxytocin, the hormone that women are flooded with when they breastfeed their babies and that makes people feel loved and at home. Interestingly, the same does not happen when humans pat wolves, probably because the two species are not as close as men and dogs.
Students who take courses on dog and animal-related therapy methods as part of their BA studies are trained to select the best treatment method for the specific cases they handle, choosing healer dogs or other animals they can employ. Very often, positive emotions such as love are produced when patients work with dogs or other animals as it makes their body secrete hormones and other essential substances that can fully heal certain health issues – including the symptoms of depression, anxiety, social hardships, and even serious illnesses.
BA-Level Therapeutic studies practically consist of two major parts. The first is student familiarization with symptoms and issues they can treat and address; the other is learning therapies and the characteristics of the healing process. Thus, they address issues and their solutions, difficulties and ways of dealing with them. A wide variety of universities and colleges offer BA in Therapeutic Studies, each focusing on different treatment methods. Students interested in combining dogs in their therapeutic work must complement their studies with classes from relevant institutions.
This study examined how children on the autistic spectrum (ASD) are affected when treated with the participation of dogs.
ASD children tend to become antagonistic towards conventional treatment interventions.
ASD children often do not perceive dogs’ involvement as interventional treatment and thus offer less resistance to their involvement in the treatment process.
Treatment with dogs is based on known treatment methods such as:
Sensory Overload, in which children are exposed to strong sensual stimulations, which decreases their sensitivity. Dogs require plenty of attention. They run, leap, lick the children and rub themselves against them, which increases stimuli. When performed gradually and slowly with several different dogs and while performing a variety of tasks, children eventually learn to better handle sensory stimuli.
DIR® – Developmental, Individual-differences, & Relationship-based model – also known as Floortime, has become the foundation for understanding child development and providing support and intervention. Work with this method cultivates a motivation to communicate through games or tapping into the patients’ interest areas.
Treatment with dogs – the process
This type of treatment requires patience and a gradual stage transition where each stage comprises higher external stimuli and task difficulty assigned to children. In the first stage, they simply spend relaxing and safe time with the dogs. Next, they take the dogs for walks and communicate with them by holding their leash and moving in unison. These two stages include physical contact with the dog while learning and pointing at the dogs’ body parts. Children tend to seek answers to questions on issues related to dogs and interactions with them.
In the following stage, children learn the principles of dog training, which serve as foundations for basic communication skills. Namely, children must give the right orders and do so properly for the dogs to respond. Initial interaction here is nonverbal as children point at objects, make requests with only facial expressions, play with the dogs, and so on. This stage is critical for healthy development later on and serves as foundation for verbal skills. Importantly, nonverbal communication is necessary for future verbal communication that contains emotional aspects and personal goals and intentions.
To examine the impact of dog treatment on the anxiety levels of ASD.
To examine the impact of dog treatment on verbal and nonverbal communication skills in therapy.
To examine whether skills acquired while working with dogs are implemented outside the therapy sessions.
To examine the impact of dog treatment on patients’ self-confidence.
The research was conducted in six special-education kindergartens with some 30 ASD children aged three to six, who are given dog treatment in weekly, 45-minute sessions for an entire year.
Questionnaires filled at every session by the researcher, the educational stuff, ASD children’s parents, and the therapeutic staff.
Video footage of the therapeutic process analyzed.
Three interim summations will be held at three points in time of the research year. These summations will examine the research progress as compared with its goals and assumptions (after which the research tools may be modified), and analyze questionnaires and videos (after which the data gathering methods will be reexamined).
This project by DSM, Dogs in the Service of Men Association, is meant to serve as a foundation for the establishment of a dog-training center, and deals with the structural and ideological aspects of engaging youths in distress and those with special needs in treatment with the help of dogs.
Main Principles of Youth Treatment with the help of Dogs
To reduce violence among youths.
To reinforce empathy and understanding for others’ needs.
To minimize drop-out figures.
To offer tools for handling pressure situations.
To improve basic (motor and communication) skills.
To help special populations gain economic independence.
The Young Dog Trainers Project (YDT) does not aim at having trained dogs as an end result. Training dogs is merely a tool designed to help patients deal with difficulties they experience daily and even suffer from.
Dogs offer external stimuli that call for the children’s attention. They require lots of attention, but offer confidence and help youths deal with real-life situations. This, however, is done in a controlled and containing environment, while offering new tools and behavior patterns. This will help them find their place in the community.
Our working assumption is as follows:
The child who wants to work the dog while training it, wishing to teach it new rules and discipline, is actually training himself in the very same fields. When the child demands that the dog stay in focus during the training session, he makes the same demand of himself too!
Furthermore, the project addresses additional behavioral problems. For example, when a child gives the dog an order and it does not obey, what should he do: Hit it, threaten it, beg it, or tempt it? Thus a situation is created where the children express their habitual reactions as picked up from their world, from the way they achieve things, or from the way they have been treated by others.
At the end of the basic course, capable youths (dissociated or slightly retarded) will be offered an opportunity to serve as assistant trainers. This transition from patient to healer is an important step in the process. It is meant to help the youths make the transition from helplessness, low self-esteem, and negative and demanding attitudes toward their community, to assuming responsibility, giving a personal example (which calls for behavior changes), giving, identifying, and sympathizing with other patients.
Eventually, training farms will be established where graduates will be offered jobs.
Proceeds made on those farms will gradually decrease dependence on external bodies and donations, and open the door to economic self-support.
The Young Trainer Project is designed to serve various kinds of populations and combine them, offering answers for the needs of each.
One of the most effective methods of working with autism is emotional flooding, which exposes the child to powerful stimuli of all their senses, until their level of sensitivity falls. Working with dogs is based on a similar principle. Dogs require a high level of attention – they run, jump, rub themselves against people, lick them, and so on – thus, they raise the level of stimuli. When done gradually and slowly, with various dogs and a variety of tasks, children eventually learn to better cope with environmental stimuli.
At the same time, they acquire better communication skills. To obtain a better response from the dog they work with, children must give their orders correctly. A dog will only follow an order if it is expressed clearly and decisively, with a stable, erect, self-assured, and calm posture. Thus, the child receives immediate positive feedback and enjoys the satisfaction of having the dog follow his orders!
The type of dogs for each task will be chosen according to the nature of the group we are working with and the stage of their progress. This will be measured in the weekly sessions, together with the children escorts and teachers.
The children’s personal progress will determine the advancement of the program.
Regular caregivers (from other frameworks) could be incorporated into working with dogs and they too could be actively trained in therapeutic work with dogs.
This will introduce the understanding that dogs could serve as effective tools in improve the quality of life for those children. Attempts should, therefore, be made to introduce dog training as part of their regular curricula.
Work with every population group will be coordinated with the homes and institutions they stay or study in.
Stages of the YDT Program
A special farm will be established which will provide dog care and services for the local community, employing the needy population. This creates a framework for patients and their caregivers (in which some patients are transformed into caregivers) with the use of dogs as a bridging factor that leads to better communication for all. The farm will serve as a stage where all parts of the community could meet, enrich, contribute, and help each other with their difficulties.
Ties will be established with the military dog-training unit as an option for youths who wish to enlist despite their disabilities.
Dog training will be added to regular high school curricula.
Dog training will be introduced to special schools for the disabled.
An academic program will be created for a BA in the field.
A state Act will be introduced to recognize dog treatment as a paramedical profession, offering graduates a Health Ministry diploma as caregivers.
National Insurance Institute (financing)
Local governments (financing)
The Mif’al Hapayis national lottery (financing)
Private donors (financing)
Various youth’s centers – locating and incorporating specialty needs population in the YDT program.
Matya – incorporating special populations
Ministry of Education – Special Education Department; Youths Dept.
Social Welfare Ministry
New, Experimental Aspects
Employing economically supported populations in creative and active work in the dog training area.
Using the principle of turning patients into healers.
Opening therapeutic dog-training courses in schools as part of the matriculation exams.
Establishing the academic aspect and introducing dog training as a paramedical academic profession.
Most of the dogs used were deserted and abandoned.
The dogs are all inoculated as required by law.
At the end of each training course, students will be able to adopt the dog they trained (with their family consent, of course).
Other dogs will be offered for adoption to suitable families and given warm shelters, as part of an adoption project that will conclude each training course for ordinary or mentally impaired youths.
Treatment is given in group formats.
Individuals with varying degrees of retardation and other mental illnesses often encounter difficulties in daily life. Lacking in motor, communication, and social skills, many are rejected by society and feel helpless.
Working with dogs could help them improve their basic communication skills, as they have to articulate clearly and maintain proper body posture to work with dogs. It will improve their reaction time, motor abilities, and self-confidence, offering them a way to become self-supporting citizens who could work as assistant trainers or independent trainers. The less capable will be offered jobs with the farm, which will offer its services to the public.
Here, we introduce an annual working plan for treatment by dogs, comprising two parts:
Special handling of emotional problems to help self-control difficulties with the use of the right kind of dog for each patient and their problems. The staff will be part of the project, trained to work with dogs, and learn how to care of people with the help of dogs.
Professional coaching and learning how to train dogs will be offered to patients who will be able to do that. The training will aim at turning patients into position holders on the farm, according to their acquired tools and professions.
Youths with emotional problems often drop out of schools and do not work. Most of them come from low-income neighborhoods, where they quickly find their way to the world of crime, violence, and drugs. As many of them are not drafted by the army, they are left on the margins of society, with no framework.
Presently, various frameworks (such as Youth Advancement, Hila, Ronen and the various community centers) locate such youths, offer them support, and help in various fields, such as completing matriculation exams, and so on. The YDT project cooperates with those frameworks.
The immediate, practical goal is to learn the basics of dog training, eventually earning a diploma as assistant trainers, with which they can assist caregivers who employ dogs while working with special-need populations.
As caregivers of those youths, it is our aim to help them develop tools for better handling everyday situations: communication skills, reaction and aggression control, and improved self-image through self-definition as caregivers.
Types of dogs and their role in the community: The youths will be working with dogs of different breeds. Each breed has specific abilities and qualities that have an impact on their suitability for such or other tasks, as well as on their type of training. The youths will learn about the various breeds, how to train them, and how to match them with the tasks they are best suited for.
Healing dogs: The youths will learn about the nature of the various breeds and their impact on the population they care for, based on our assigned goals. For example, large and calm dogs are perfect for relaxing mentally disturbed persons, or to create a feeling of security at the start of training sessions.
Recognizing symptoms: The youths will be given an initial idea of the various symptoms and types of ailments (autism, Turret’s, retardation, etc.) and learn ways of dealing with the specific needs of each group. As awareness of the needs of patients increases, self-awareness will naturally increase as well.
In the course of the project, the youths will visit facilities such as the Police and Army dog-training centers, a farm for guide dogs, and farms where various disabled children are treated, where they could later be employed as trainers.
The transition from trainee to trainer is a major factor in this process. When they are exposed to autism, for example, they will connect with their own gentle side and their ability to give and contribute to others. Changing their self-definition as trainers and caregivers will make it imperative for them to change and serve as models for the kids they treat.
The youths will be given an opportunity to choose the training course they prefer. Whether they choose caring for other youths or directly training dogs, they will be able to learn a profession, which will later help them support themselves independently and join military frameworks to match their training. Thus they will earn the right to serve their country and gain esteem, prestige, and respectability.
Course scope: 15 to 20 sessions of 2 hours each.
Training youths in this kind of work could be part of the general curriculum. This could offer a partial solution for youths who might drop out, study only partially, and so on.
Introducing dog training as a school course could help them gain matriculation points, increase school presence, motivation levels, and so on.
High school YDT classes include:
Theoretical and practical study of types of dogs, training methods, and working with dogs.
Practical dog training classes for various purposes.
Theory of therapeutic work with dogs.
Theoretical studies of types of patients and syndromes.
Practical (potentially diploma) studies for assistant trainers in special schools.
Several Additional Main Points
As part of the course, a doghouse will be built on school premises that will house abandoned dogs from the animal associations. The students will care for the dog and their pen, which helps creating a sense of responsibility.
The youths will develop research and conclusion abilities. Working with dogs requires constant and dynamic attention. Each person treated requires a slightly different approach, which calls for different types of dogs, different tasks, and so on. The students will thus constantly monitor the disabled children they work with, reach conclusions, and seek solutions for problems as they emerge.
At the end of each school year, students or people of the community will be given the opportunity to adopt the trained dogs.
The children will be allowed to come up with additional projects – for example, creating a dog-based security system, which will protect the school grounds, while creating a sense of belonging for the class pupils.
The basic idea here is keeping troubled children inside the school framework, where they are offered a field of study that meets their needs and offers them tools for better relations with the community. Here, studies are not merely theoretical – which is often a source of frustration for many – but the students will be able to see the results of their work immediately, and observe real-life situations while developing study capabilities.