“Did you ever stop to think that a dog is the only animal that doesn’t have to work for a living? A hen has to lay eggs, a cow has to give milk, and a canary has to sing. But a dog makes his living by giving you nothing but love.” (Dale Carnagie, How to Win Friends and Influence People)
For the past six years, I have been fortunate to work with various therapy dogs in my school counseling office. In my experience, the power that these animals have to heal children, goes beyond what humans are able to accomplish.
Five years ago I worked with a young kindergartener who had a terrible time transitioning in September. Every morning the teacher had to pry him off of his mother and hold onto him while mom quickly escaped out the door. I tried to intervene with various distractions such as walks around the school with a buddy, and playing with bubbles and play dough in my office. But all of my efforts were short lived. While he would eventually calm down, the student was still crying and clinging to mom every morning.
Fortunately, our school secretary had a therapy dog in training beside her desk. We decided that I would meet the student and his mother at the beginning of the day, to ease the transition. We figured, who could be sad when a playful puppy has your attention.
So the routine went as follows. I met the student at the side door of the school. We dropped off his backpack in his classroom. He chose a friend and we went to the gymnasium to run around with the dog. That simple. And it worked like magic. Within minutes the boys were giggling and running, throwing a ball for the dog. The release of endorphins quickly calmed him down.
After a few weeks of this, there weren’t any more tears in the morning. Simply excitement to see his four legged friend.
A few years later I was fortunate enough to work with Dune. Seeing and working with this playful sandy colored dog, pictured above, was the highlight of my week. Over the three years that I worked with Dune, I came to grow and love him and his family. Mrs. Milner, her daughter Tatiana, and Dune were a part of our school community. They were always greeted with excitement upon their arrival.
Dune had a magical effect on some of my students. One child who would not speak in school would speak to give commands to Dune. Another child with social and reading difficulties had her confidence built by reading and playing with Dune. She eventually went on to support another younger student. There were children who were experiencing school anxiety, lack of confidence, family changes, and death of pets that were all comforted by Dune. His ability to lift the spirits of my students in fifteen minutes or less was remarkable.
Finally, I can’t discuss therapy dogs without paying tribute to Lola. Lola, is the third wheel in the dynamic team at Califon Chiropractic. She happily greets my family at the door every time we enter. (In hopes of a biscuit of course.) Lola has helped my family heal from the loss of our dog Tucker. She also helped my toddler get over his fear of dogs. “Lola” was one of his first words. It is amazing to watch her delicately take a dog treat right from his hand. Unfortunately, some don’t quite understand the value of the healing qualities of dogs; so Lola is temporarily on sabbatical. We hope to see her soon.
While these stories might bring about warm fuzzies, some of you may be wondering if there is any empirical evidence to validate my claims of the effectiveness of therapy dogs. After some research, I found a number of institutes that focus on the human animal bond. One in particular, the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine states that through their research they have found that the human-animal bond has positive effects on blood pressure, life span, and the hormone oxytocin, which helps our bodies heal faster.
So if you are thinking about getting your dog certified as a therapy dog. Do it. If you are thinking about involving a therapy dog in your school or office. Do it. You will never look back.
And please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like a sample consent form for parents, or ideas for uses in a school setting.