Dog therapy is a therapy with specially trained dogs. It can support motor rehabilitation and psychotherapy, or it can be employed with people afflicted with Down syndrome, autism, speech disorders and motor coordination disorders.
It can e addressed to children, adults and elderly people. This domain is fairly new – it was not until 2010 that the profession of dog therapist appeared in Poland.
The history of dog therapy
The American child psychiatrist Boris Levinson is said to be the founder of dog therapy. At the beginning of the 1960s he was the first to use the expression “pet therapy", after he had noticed the positive influence of dogs on autistic children.
In the United States, dog therapy has been known for several decades, with animal therapy officially practised since 1977, when psychologists Sam and Elisabeth Corson developed a programme of such a therapy.
The pioneer of dog therapy in Poland is Maria Czerwińska the President of the CZE-NE-KA Foundation for People and Animals Friendship. In 1987, when filming “Widzę" (“I can see"), a film with the participation of visually impaired children, she noticed their enthusiastic reaction to animals “seen through touch" and how positive the contact with dogs was for them. From then on, animals became frequent guests in the Blind Institution in Laski, and later, among others, in the Deaf and Mute Institute in Warsaw as well as other centres for the disabled.
In 2004, Polish Association for Dog Therapy was established, but only in 2010 did the profession of dog therapist appear. Currently the Polish Society for Dog Therapy and many other organisations are engaged in dog therapy, for example, CZE-NE-KA, the Ama Canem Foundation or the Animals for People Association.
What does contact with a dog give?
Dog therapists emphasise that the presence of a dog is an irreplaceable aid in establishing contact and a motivator for sick people to do exercises and absorb knowledge. Contact with a dog has a soothing effect and gives a feeling of safety.
the essence of dog therapy is establishing close, tactile contact between a sick, disabled person and the therapy dog.
The Ama Canem Foundation emphasises that through dog therapy we can, among other things, develop speech and enrich vocabulary, overcome fears, stimulate the senses, exercise concentration, motor coordination and special orientation, develop cause-and-effect thinking, stimulate muscle work through motor exercises, build self-esteem and confidence and sense of safety, learn independence and responsibility, ease stress and loneliness, motivate to act, and build emotional relations in people with difficulty in communicating.
Whom do dogs help?
Ama Canem employed dog therapy in, among others, therapeutic programmes for juvenile detention inmates, in sessions with patients from child oncological departments, in nurseries and schools, for both healthy and disabled children, and in programmes for elderly people.
Dogs help in therapy with children with Down syndrome, Asperger syndrome, autism, mental impairment, social dysfunctions and with motor-organ disorders and diseases.
What traits should a therapy dog have?
Not every dog is suitable for dog therapy. The character needs to be appropriate, so that it is safe and effective. What traits should it have?
The Animals for People Association conducts tests on dogs which are to start working for the Association. The tests check, among other things, the dog’s reaction to new situations – to an unknown sound, to strange objects, to people who try to force it to do something (e.g. hold it to the ground).
Later, the dog’s reactions to children’s behaviour are checked, for example running or shouting.
In none of these situations should a dog react with panic or aggression.