Benefits of the human-animal bond
Emotional Regulation and Wellbeing
We work with children who for many different reasons struggle to recognise, regulate and control their emotions and in turn their behaviour. Working with the children on our emotional regulation programme helps them to explore how they are feeling, understand why they are feeling that way and start to put strategies in place to effectively manage their anger and outbursts.
Specialist CAL practitioner teams work on an one-to-one basis focusing on social, emotional and behavioural intervention strategies. The aim is to help young people understand and regulate their emotions and behaviour by providing a safe, non-judgemental space to explore different emotional reactions and provide psychoeducation about different behavioural strategies. These early interventions can provide strategies that will help the children throughout their education and life.
Our team at Canine Assisted Learning has had extremely positive results reducing anxieties in the young people we work with. Our dogs have a calming presence and can be used as both a distraction and a source of comfort. Alongside our consultants, our dogs are able to help support young people develop strategies and manage their anxieties. Creating a therapeutic bond with our dogs has led to many young people to be able to open up, trust others and to make a step to challenge negative thoughts and feelings.
The support that CAL school dog teams offer is not limited to just the classroom but extends to helping the young people they work with in social situations including school trips. The human animal bond helps create a unique bond between the young person and dog which can help lower anxieties, which in turn can help children in situations they find stressful and overwhelming. During school trips our dogs can be used to help the children reduce their anxiety levels and regulate their emotions.
One teacher tells of how one of our CAL teams helped a child grow in social confidence: “Josh found going out of the school building a terrifying experience. He would become incredibly anxious, have panic attacks, he would scream, shout and even become violent to avoid any trips out. Through working with Daisy, over time he was able to visit the local shop and even buy some sweets – this is a huge breakthrough for Josh and we are hoping he will be doing more trips next term.”
One of the things Josh found difficult about social situations was other members of the public getting too close to him. He described Daisy as his “plough”. Daisy walked next to Josh and people understood that they shouldn’t get too close and quietly moved out of their way. Josh would sometimes get panicky about asking people to move and when he started to feel his anxiety increase, he would talk to Daisy whilst gently stroking her.
Helping to Develop Social Skills
In social situations where a young person might be reluctant to participate, our assistance dogs can act as a bridge, helping to facilitate good communication and interaction.
We have achieved consistent results even with children that are likely to become overwhelmed in social situations and those that have a tendency to run off. For example, one young person’s anxieties and inappropriate behaviour made even a simple trip to the park impossible. With our help, this child overcame their constraints and improved so much that it meant they could take part in and enjoy such activities regularly. This was a huge achievement for that particular child.
In another case, one child refused to engage in classroom events and would sit under a table every day for hours at a time, often leading to escalation. With the introduction of our team, the child started to interact positively and even began to look forward to coming to school. Eventually, their behaviour improved even when we were not in attendance. Each week, the child was excited and proud to share their recent achievements with our team and we were very happy to be part of their success. Over time this child’s academic progress started to show significant improvement as they regularly engaged with and completed the learning tasks asked of them.
Boosting Self-Esteem and Confidence
We have helped many young people increase their confidence and self-esteem. Our assistance dogs naturally encourage children and reassures them at times that would usually be difficult or stressful for them. Events such as visiting a busy town centre or meeting with family members when in difficult home situations can become more relaxed with our services.
“During a taster a young girl who does not speak to anybody outside of her family but come to talk to Meg and did so throughout her time in the session. I would never have guessed that she was selective mute”
Many of the young people we work with have problematic issues in their lives and they sometimes find it difficult to talk to and trust adults. Our services provide a unique way for them to open up, to talk about and work through any issues they might be facing. We believe that this is an unique and important approach to therapy, and it is one that can achieve outstanding results among some of our society’s most vulnerable members.
We have seen that young people are drawn to our dogs, even pupils we are not due to see often come and seek our teams out during rest periods and breaks so that they can spend time with the dog and open up about issues that may be affecting them. We have a strict safeguarding policy and procedure ensuring any disclosures or sensitive information is kept confidential.
“The benefit to the children working with Rosie and Lisa has been huge, and this is recognised by the teachers of all 4 children who currently benefit from 1:1 sessions with Rosie and Lisa. The improved communication of one child with selective mutism has meant that we have been able to avoid the cost of additional interventions in class. We have also benefited from a child with an EHCP working with Rosie, so that her 1:1 TLSA can be utilised in providing booster work for other students. Rosie and Lisa have been really welcoming to our children in our Nurture group, providing support for children even when they are not at school through the strategies that Lisa has taught them”
Improve Negative Behaviour
We work with young people who for many different reasons struggle to recognise, regulate and control their emotions and in turn their behaviour. Working with the young people on our emotional regulation programme helps them to explore how they are feeling, understand why they are feeling that way and start to put strategies in place to effectively manage their anger and outbursts.
Animal Assisted Interventions have been shown to reduce challenging behaviour in children and adolescents, whilst increasing psychological functioning.
Our school dogs have a positive effect on reducing negative behaviour and can significantly help reduce the number of disruptive and violent outbursts in the classroom. The chart below shows the average difference in reports of bullying and disruptive outbursts between an ‘average day’ compared to a CAL intervention day.
We believe this reduction is a reflection of the physical calming effect of our dogs, as animals have been shown to act as a social buffer to the impact of psychosocial stress (O’Haire, McKenzie, Beck & Slaughter, 2015).
The change in number of reported bullying and disruptive behaviour incidents over a one-week period when receiving a CAL intervention.
While our presence in classrooms has a hugely positive general effect, we achieve fantastic results when working one-to-one and specifically targeting areas students are finding difficult — one in particular is literacy.
We have seen children who had fallen far behind by previously refusing to engage in reading activities improve by a great degree and — perhaps more importantly — genuinely start to enjoy reading and the world of books. We help young people look forward to reading, to be proud of their achievements and become excited about choosing their next book.
There have been many studies looking into the positive effects that therapy dogs can have on the literacy levels of children and we have seen the positive results of these for ourselves. We have worked with children of many ages, backgrounds and abilities, and we’re proud to be able to say that all of them have increased their reading accuracy and their reading comprehension ages as a direct consequence of our attendance.
AAI practitioner Claire Pickersgill shares an example of her interventions along with CAL dog Lilly: “I’ve been working with a child who’s reading age improved by 1.5 years and reading comprehension improved by 2.5 years within a 3 month period. It was through her engagement with Lilly that her confidence grew and her progress excelled.
“I’ve also been working with another young person whose anxiety was preventing her from attending school. By introducing her to Lilly, she was able to feel calm and confident and talk through her anxieties. She attended short sessions that increased over time and she’s now confident enough to attend lessons alongside her peers.”
CAL animal assisted talking therapies offer a progressive and innovative therapeutic approach that engages young people through the development of the human-animal bond. This has proved to be of huge benefit to those who struggle to engage in traditional talking therapies.
Our approach offers a different way of exploring difficult and sensitive issues, making it easier for the young people we work with to express their feelings and recount painful experiences. Our highly trained CAL dogs help create a calm and peaceful environment enabling our sessions to be of maximum benefit. We provide talking therapies to help with the following:
- Eating disorders
- Self harm
- Coping with change
- Working through traumatic and upsetting experiences
- Self regulation
An intervention example: Lily, Senior CAL Dog
“Lily’s involvement was greatly acknowledged when we were able to work with a young person who was selectively mute and felt no-one other than Lilly, was safe enough to trust. This young person had not spoken in over two years and struggled to engage with any other therapies. Following a referral, in our first session Lilly’s presence immediately helped calm and contain the anxieties of this young person.
“Whilst Lily is able to comfort and ‘hold’ the emotions in the room, it is the partnership between dog and therapist that truly helps see the results. With Lilly supporting the young person, they were able to engage with the therapist and build up a strong, working, therapeutic relationship. Over time, using an integrative counselling and animal assisted approach, the young person was able to regulate and understand their emotions, whilst understanding the trauma that lay beneath. With many selectively mute individuals, a trigger can be initiated from a traumatic event. For this individual, being able to work with the therapist to replay and re-frame these events were necessary for any verbal communication to begin.
“This also further improved additional challenges such as flashbacks and panic attacks. After further work, the therapeutic relationship was strong enough for the individual to feel they could communicate a word verbally. Starting small. Speaking to Lilly once a week allowed the process to begin and furthermore resulted in the individual trusting the therapist enough to communicate these worries. Once this happened, the life of the individual began to greatly improve. Being able to form this therapeutic relationship and begin to communicate verbally meant other services were also able to be engaged.
“Whilst this highlights some of the work that the therapist does, it would not have been possible if Lily was not there to make that individual feel safe enough to engage. Many young people feel they cannot relate and trust new people. However, dogs have the innate ability to comfort these uncomfortable feelings and to help tolerate them whilst working therapeutically.
“Thank you Lilly for supporting young people who fear the idea of ‘therapy’ and to comfort them whilst on this journey.”