Canine Assisted Learning is dedicated to improving the mental health and wellbeing of the children and adults we work with, through bespoke canine interventions and support. For this to be effectively achieved, our canine partners need to be in “tip top” condition both mentally and physically. Their wellbeing is key to the work we do and their welfare is our priority. Working dogs need a healthy work-life balance too!

All our animals are carefully selected for their temperament and character and all undergo an extensive and ongoing period of training and socialisation overseen by CAL’s clinical behaviourist and trainers. Our training is always based on reward and positive reinforcement. Dogs need to feel confident, safe and comfortable in their surroundings to effectively support their special person or group. It is vitally important that dogs have a balance of engaging in natural behaviour in their working day. This includes things such as access to regular breaks, engaging play time, and a comfortable, safe and relaxed environment. All of our specialist practitioners have a unique and special bond with the dogs they work alongside, enabling them to immediately identify any signs of unease or stress. This is paired with specialist training from our in house clinical canine behaviourist. Frequency, content and duration of sessions are carefully monitored to ensure the dogs optimum wellbeing at all times. The handler is always the dog’s best advocate.

For an effective Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI)/Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) to take place, the dog must be in a state of positive wellbeing. With the recent Covid restrictions our dogs have found their regular environments disrupted – masks, visors, new smells, different social groups, minimal furnishings and working areas. This has been challenging but our dogs are trained to adapt swiftly to change and unpredictable situations. The CAL practitioner always ensures their canine partner is comfortable and well suited to their ever-changing environment and role.

There have been many recent studies looking at the impact of AAI/AAT on the mental wellbeing of the dogs themselves. (Metco et al). Salivary cortisol levels are monitored as an indicator of stress levels during carefully regulated sessions. Metco et al and a number of other studies indicate no change to stress levels during individual or group sessions. Most recent emerging research indicates AAI/AAT actually has a positive benefit to the dogs wellbeing!

“Off duty” time for our dogs is all about relaxation and fun with plenty of time outdoors to run freely, swim, enjoy nature, learn new tricks or just get muddy in the park! A healthy well balanced dog ensures every individual we work alongside benefits and achieves the most from the individual or group sessions and ensures Canine Assisted Learning remains at the forefront of academic and therapeutic interventions.

by Angela Crook