Therapy Dog in training
INFORMATION REGARDING OUR NEW SERVICE: ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY (AAT)
What is Animal Assisted Therapy?
Animal Assisted Therapy incorporates the use of animals, within a therapy session, to achieve a specific goal. Over the years, a building body of research has investigated the positive impact that the human-animal bond can have on both adults and children. As animals are non-judgemental and provide an unconditional love, they assist in increasing the engagement and rapport between therapist and client. Research has also shown that having animals incorporated within the therapeutic process can assist to reduce anxiety, increase relaxation and increase communication within sessions (Fine et al., 2015). All services are provided in accordance with the Animal Assisted Intervention International Standards of Practice and the Australian Psychology Services Code of Ethics.
As a young therapy dog in training, Hadley’s early training will be focused on socialisation into the therapy room and to clients, as well as learning basic commands and impulse control. Hadley will be training with professional dog trainers as well as attending puppy and obedience classes. During sessions, clients are welcome to help with Hadley’s training by petting her and giving her treats for waiting, calm and comforting behaviours (treats to be provided by the practice only). It will not be helpful for clients to overly excite or scare Hadley, or to encourage her to jump up or bark. When old enough, Hadley and Dr Rachel Gleave will attend specific training to become certified in Animal Assisted Therapy. Once completed, Hadley will have to pass the Good Citizen Test in order to graduate from being a “therapy dog in training” to an official “therapy dog”. This transition is anticipated to occur when Hadley is approximately twelve to eighteen months old.
Clinical Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy
There are many benefits associated with working with therapy animals in training and with AAT. Some benefits that have been found include:
- Animals provide a sense of safety, security and emotional support in the therapy room that can help further improve motivation and engagement in psychotherapy (Fine et al., 2015), perhaps resulting in a shorter recovery process (and lower costs to you).
- Research has demonstrated that petting an animal can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, and increase oxytocin (the bonding/calming chemical in the brain). Specifically, a study of the human brain revealed it has neurones that respond solely to animals. The nerve cells sit in the amygdala, a brain centre loaded with oxytocin neurones and critical to emotional evaluation and the stress response (Knobloch et al., 2012; Mormann et al., 2011). Oxytocin in particular, interacts with neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, noradrenalin, GABA, ACTH, and the opioids to calm our sympathetic nervous system (flight/flight/freeze defensive reflexes). Oxytocin has been shown to reduce stress response in people with a history of early trauma (Meyer-Lindenberg et al., 2012). It produces a unique effect of decreasing background anxiety without affecting learning or memory of a traumatic or stressful event (Missig et al. 2010).This is particularly beneficial in trauma processing, repairing attachment wounds, and working though interpersonal mistrust.
- Animals can help the client learn frustration tolerance, anger management techniques and social rules/boundaries; this is particularly beneficial for children and those on the Autism Spectrum (Fine et al., 2015).
- Animals in therapy ask for clients to develop empathy, nurturance, and responsibility, and model other skills like forgiveness and patience (Fine et al., 2015).
- Through the use of positive reinforcement-based dog training, clients can learn the importance of rewarding good behaviours in compassionate ways in themselves, their partners, and/or in their children (Fine et al., 2015).
Potential Risks of Animal Assisted Therapy
Even though there are many benefits to working with animals, there are risks involved in utilising this method of psychotherapy. For example:
- Hadley is currently in training: meaning she has not yet been certified to do Animal Assisted Therapy. She needs to be socialised and learn skills.
- INJURY: Hadley may nibble, accidentally scratch, lick, jump and/or lean up against you that might cause injury. These actions are not aggression but rather dog’s way of interacting. Hadley is still a puppy meaning that she is still teething and learning to develop impulse control.
- ALLERGIES: If you are allergic to dogs you may suffer from an allergic reaction. Hadley is crossed with poodle so she has hypoallergenic fleece coat. This means that she will not shed much dog hair. Hadley will be regularly groomed to help reduce shedding further. Although she is less likely to cause an allergic reaction we cannot guarantee that she is allergy safe. If you are allergic to dogs, you can request to have your therapy sessions in an office that Hadley is restricted to enter.
- ZOONOTIC DISEASE involves the sharing of disease between humans and animals. Every effort will be made to ensure against zoonotic disease transmission. Hadley will remain current on all standard vaccinations and every effort will be made so that she is not exposed to other ill animals or humans. You may request to review a list of Hadley’s vaccinations. Cairns Trauma & Clinical Psychology will supply antibacterial wipes, soap and hand sanitiser that you must use before and after interacting with Hadley. You should consult your doctor and inform Dr Rachel Gleave of any health issues (i.e., autoimmune disease, compromised immune system, respiratory problems) prior to treatment with Hadley.
- FEAR OF DOGS: Hadley can be a great resource for working through any dog phobias however, you should not conduct treatment with Hadley if you are too uncomfortable as this can result in sensitisation (increasing of the fear/phobic response). Any fear, trepidation, and/or anxiety towards dogs must be disclosed prior to any sessions with Hadley. If you choose to work through your dog phobia with Hadley, a treatment plan will be discussed and followed with Dr Rachel Gleave that will ensure that exposure interventions with Hadley are timed appropriately for efficacious and safe treatment.
Interacting with Hadley
- Hadley is to be treated with respect and kindness. She should not be hit, yelled at, have her tail or any other parts pulled, be carried, or treated in any other way that is uncomfortable to her.
- Hadley is allowed to determine if and when she participates with clients. While it may be planned to have her as part of your clinical treatment, she will never be forced to do so.
- Dr Rachel Gleave is required to look out for the welfare and safety of both yourself and Hadley. If at any time Hadley becomes distracting to your treatment or if she becomes distressed, she will be removed and allowed to take a break. You may also ask at any time for Hadley to be removed.
- There is a designated space at Cairns Trauma & Clinical Psychology for Hadley only. This is Hadley’s space where she can rest, sleep, and/or take a break. She is not to be disturbed whilst in this space.
- Due to the unpredictability of animals in unfamiliar situations, clients may not bring their own animal to be involved in the therapy session.
- Parents or guardians of children under the age of 10 years must remain on the premises during their child’s session.
Fine, A. H. (Ed.). (2015). Handbook on animal-assisted therapy: Foundations and guidelines for animal-assisted interventions (4th ed.). Elsevier Academic Press.
Knobloch, H. S., Charlet, A., Hoffamn, L. C., Eliava, M., Khrulev, S., & Grinevich, V. (2012). Evoked axonal oxytocin release in central amygdala attenuates fear response. Neuron, 73(3), 553–566.
Meyer-Lindenberg, A., Domes, G., Kirsh, P., & Heinrichs, M. (2012). Oxytocin and vasopressin in the human brain: social neuropeptides for translational medicine. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12, 524–538.
Missig, G., Ayers, L. W., Schulkin, J., & Rosen, J. B. (2010). Oxytocin reduces background anxiety in fear-potentiated startle paradigm. Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(13), 2607–2616.
Mormann, F., Dubois, J., Kornblith, S., Milosavljevic, M., Cerf, M., Ison, M., et al. (2011). A category-specific response to animals in the right human amygdala. Nature Neuroscience, 14(10), 1247–1249.