Within the field of animal-assisted therapy, the dog is the most popular species. One of the main reasons is that a large part of the population has had, since childhood, some type of relationship with dogs. His nature, almost disinterested, close, and his way of interacting with humans, well earned him the title of “Man’s best friend.”
The first studies on the possibilities of incorporating animals in therapies occurred in the 60s. These made that, in training programs from the 70s to today, dogs continue to be the most present figure in this form of therapy. These therapies assisted with dogs, although they are not accepted by all, for reasons of hygiene or safety, provide an alternative to conventional therapies.
Beyond this type of case, below, we expose the methodology, benefits, and development of therapy with dogs or canoe therapy, a practice that is useful in hospitals, schools, or nursing homes.
What is it about?
Dog therapy is a guided process, with a dog specially trained for this purpose. These types of therapies have been used, both to help those who suffer from physical illnesses, as well as those who show psychological disorders (such as low self-esteem, post-traumatic experiences, anxiety, or depression).
The therapist and patient must be aware of what the goal of therapy is and follow up on this process. Usually, the animal, which is trained for this purpose, is accompanied by its owner. In addition, it must have certain qualities such as obedience, allow itself to be caressed easily, be able to be in the same space with several people, and be healthy and calm.
In this way, therapy dogs are used to improve four fundamental areas within the therapeutic process: physical, cognitive, emotional, and relational . The choice of the dog and its previous training will also depend on this.
The benefits will depend on the area in which the therapy is focused and your goals. In the case of psychological problems, in general, the company of a dog brings an improvement in the mood, allows the person to generate a new bond, and guarantees the development of social skills, such as empathy or communication. When applied to nursing homes and hospitals, therapy allows the person to feel less alone or to go through a difficult process, such as some type of illness or curative treatment, in better spirits.
In the physical field, dogs trained for this type of therapy make the patient tone or strengthen muscle tone, be able to improve motor skills, such as coordination, and even fine motor skills.
The lowest common denominator of this therapeutic methodology is that it is pleasant for those who participate in it. Dogs allow to relax the environment and make the patient often forget, at least for a moment, his condition. This is also because, many times, the interaction is through the game.
One of the areas where this type of approach is beginning to be used is in schools. The goal is for students to stop associating negative feelings with the learning process, as can happen, for example, with reading aloud. Thus, the child may have other types of connections and emotions with something that, until then, only generated fear or anxiety.
Children with autism or attention problems are also one of the groups with the greatest benefits from this type of therapy. Physical contact with an animal, little by little, leads to progress in socialization. In cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dogs represent a way for the child to improve their social skills and self-esteem. It is not a cure, but it is a tool to mitigate certain symptoms of this disorder.
In this case, the patient may have therapy with dogs when he is undergoing treatment, to a greater or lesser extent invasive, or under care for heart problems. The dog helps to reduce the levels of depression, anguish, and anxiety, which accompany these pathologies. Its function is to accompany and help the patient to focus on something other than their treatment.
As we mentioned previously, physical therapies also find a good ally in dogs. This is because, many times, something as simple as combing an animal has a wide benefit in the development of fine motor skills.
The loneliness that often invades this type of place, can be combated with the periodic visit of animals. The dog is better adapted to this environment because it is confident and, being trained, does not present any physical risk to the elderly. In other cases, they also supply old pets that those who live in these homes may miss. We cannot forget that many of the people who live in a home have good esteem for the company of a dog.