The ‘Paw-fect’ Match

How many of you have had the honour of experiencing life with a canine companion – someone who is unconditionally always there for you?

“A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his…

 How many people can you say that about? … How many people can make you feel extraordinary?” (John Grogan, Marley and Me).

In this week’s blog, we will explore how our special connection with canines warrants its use in therapy with kids and adults. I (Krystal) am embarking on the journey of raising and training a Therapy Dog that will be complementing the Sprout team!

It’s undeniable that humans and animals share a magical bond. Try as you might, it’s a unique bond that that words simply cannot explain. It’s an elusive feeling that makes us feel happy and whole, when we’re feeling sad and broken; alive and well, when we’re sick and lonely; or on a deeper level- feel wanted and seen, when we feel unwanted and invisible.

So where does this ‘connection’ come from? And how is it able to touch and heal our hearts?

Humans and animals (in particular canines), share a unique relationship that dates back to the ‘cave man’ era. This human-animal team has achieved a prominent status in history; working together as hunters, gatherers, transport, protection and warmth – It’s no wonder they’ve been labelled “man’s best friend”.

In the modern world, this human-canine team can be seen working together in war zones, bomb/ drug detection operations, security, service for the special needs (ie: guide dogs, therapy dogs, companion dogs), and in specialised educational programs.

What’s truly magical, is the special bond that exists between children and animals. Animals are naturally a part of a child’s world. Children are surrounded by animals from an early age- from infant room decor, to cartoons, clothes, soft toys, and books.

When witnessed, the child-animal bond is something pure. A child’s bond with animals teaches empathy and compassion- as well as a host of other skills such as; fine motor, gross motor, sensory regulation, emotional regulation, and social skills to name a few!

Children and canines have many commonalities when it comes to surviving the modern world. Both kids and canines rely on adults for assistance, they both use non-verbal communication to interact, they each have their own personality, and will both generally protest to new experiences until they are internally ready!

Under the right conditions, these similarities allow harmonious relationships to be formed.

There are no ‘smoke and mirrors’ when it comes to our canine friends- what you see, is what you get! Most canines are playful, accepting, social, present, and honest. These qualities are naturally inviting for kids and adults to experience – what it feels like to have that unconditional, positive, and accepting relationship that (for whatever reason ie: trauma, abuse, biological barriers) was not able to be achieved with human-human interactions.

An animal has potential to bring a withdrawn child out of his or her shell, and when a child has been abused or traumatised, the non-judgmental comfort an animal provides can help the child heal. Understanding this bond is essential to believing that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can help children.

AAT is an experiential form of therapy facilitated by human-canine therapy teams. AAT harnesses the “power” of animals to project or reflect the child’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings through carefully planned activities.

For example: A dog may choose not to participate in an activity the child has in mind. This action can elicit various reactions and emotions (ie: rejection), which provides valuable information to how the child perceives their world.

The journey to healing and self-awareness begins when these experiences are carefully explored within a safe therapeutic environment. The learning that arises is child-led, personal, and creates awareness from which future learning and growth can occur.

Human-canine therapy teams certainly have huge potential in adding new dimensions to the healing process. It provides new avenues for individuals who find human-human interactions challenging, or for those who prefer to have a more experiential approach to their own healing processes.

Stay tuned to find out more about Krystal and her pup’s journey to become a human-canine therapy team.