Tag Archives: therapy dogs

Job share: Boots and Rush

When this story came through my Facebook feed, I had to share it.

Yet another ‘working dogs/therapy dogs’ success story – this time in Western Australia at the Woodvale Secondary College using two special greyhounds.

Boots came first for three days of dog therapy support, and then Rush joined to fill in for the remaining two days.

Enjoy this video, which shows therapy dog work and benefits:

And the spin-off benefit from using the dogs at the school is the profile raised for greyhound adoption.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Can Therapy Dogs Assist in Motivating Children on the Autism Spectrum?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the most widely and deeply researched topics in child development as researchers constantly look for answers into not only its cause but the best way to treat the problematic symptoms of the disorder once diagnosed.

Effects of the various types of ASD include deficits in social communication and interaction, repetitive or restricted behavior, sensory issues and cognitive delays. These traits prevent children on the spectrum from performing or completing tasks in the same timeliness or fashion as other children.

Often, in order to get children with ASD to complete tasks, a reward-based system is implemented, where the child is given a toy or some other form of reward. But the offer of a reward doesn’t always guarantee completion of the task.

One Texas Tech University researcher is part of a team taking a unique look at this system by providing access to therapy dogs as the reward, allowing students who complete certain academic tasks to spend time with the pooch, with the hope that potential interaction further motivates them to complete those tasks.

“It is a reward-based program,” said Alexandra Protopopova, a behavioral analyst and assistant professor in companion animal science in the Department of Animal & Food Sciences. “There is a second component to it, however, in that dogs, just by being dogs, may alleviate stress. Potentially, the dogs create a more pleasant environment and offer emotional support during academic sessions.”

“So, by mediating that stress level, the dogs may improve learning and potentially improve other outcomes as well as being a reward for the child ruing work.”

Dogs as rewards for autistic children

The dogs create a more pleasant environment and offer emotional support during academic sessions. Photo by Texas Tech University

Protopopova is an expert in behavior issues with dogs across a wide array of subjects, from interaction with children with ASD to analyzing what behaviors are more attractive for potential adopters and ways to bring those behaviors out to improve adoption rates.

But she said the methods and philosophies of how behavior works in animals is, at the core, the same as it is in children, and it is that connection that made this current research both attractive and interesting.

“With an iPad or toy as a reward, a child might become bored over time,” Protopopova said. “With a dog you might see the exact opposite situation over time where the child grows attached to the dog and the quality of the reward grows as well.”

Emotional interaction

Upon arriving at Texas Tech, Protopopova had a colleague in the College of Education, professor Jeanne Donaldson, who is now at Louisiana State University, and wanted to immediately connect the college and the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research with the Department of Animal & Food Sciences. The most natural way to make that connection, she said was to incorporate therapy dogs with the research being done involving applied behavior analysis in children with disabilities.

“Social behavior and social interaction has been an often neglected component of these kinds of programs,” Protopopova said, “and that is something researchers have attempted to improve, that social behavior and communication. There is some evidence that dogs or animals in general occasionally could bring out that social connection. That part of the research is definitely attractive to us.”

Measuring the effectiveness of using therapy dogs as a reward for academic performance in children with ASD was performed in two areas. The first was done biologically; stress responses were detected through the collection of saliva. Breanna Harris, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, used salivary cortisol, a stress hormone, to determine a student’s stress level in regard to anticipating interaction with the dog.

The second aspect of measuring effectiveness was done by observing the rate of work in the children and how motivated the children were to engage in academic tasks. Each child was given an individual task based on his or her education level, so those tasks involved the same things they were learning in school at the time or what parents had indicated the child needed extra help with.

A control condition was created where there were not rewards and children received praise only for engaging in academic tasks. A second control group saw children work toward receiving inanimate leisure items such as iPads or toys, which Protopopova said have been proven through prior research to be effective motivational tactics.

Two other control conditions involved the therapy dogs. One condition involved the dogs being used as a reward for work performed and would be present only after that work was completed. The second condition was what Protopopova termed more of the typical animal assisted intervention where the dog was continuously present in the room.

The conditions where there was no reward at all and where the dog was constantly around proved to be the most ineffective methods of motivation, researchers found. The two conditions where there were rewards provided upon completion of the work were the most effective; being rewarded with spending time with the therapy dog proved the most effective for some children.

“In fact, for most of the children, this was very useful as a reward because the dog motivated them quite a bit to do the work,” Protopopova said. “We did find, surprisingly to me, that one participant did in fact work where we hypothesized he wouldn’t during a session where the dog was present but not as a reward.”

Improvement over time

Single-use incidents of using the therapy dog show one thing, but the researchers wanted to determine whether prolonged exposure to the availability of a therapy dog as a reward for performing work continues those results.

For that reason, in this first study, children stayed in the program for anywhere from four to nine months to see if using the same dog repeatedly fosters the child’s attachment to the dog.

Prior to the child beginning the program, he or she is given a behavioral preference assessment where the child is asked to choose his or her favorite thing in the room, whether it’s a toy, an electronic device, a dog, etc. They also were given the choice of performing the academic test instead. At the end of the program, the child is tested again with the same assessment to see if their preferences had changed.

“We wanted to see how all these preferences for inanimate objects or activities changed,” Protopopova said. “Right now we are still collecting the final pieces of data because we’re still finishing up with a couple of participants. We don’t yet have the clear answers there, but it’s not as straightforward as we imagined, either. For some of the children, we did not see the attachment we hypothesized, or at least any evidence of it in our data so far. But it’s too early to tell.”

Protopopova said one of the advantages of this study is its single-subject design where each child’s program or sessions are designed specifically for that child’s needs. That will allow, if the program is used outside of an educational setting, for other children to enter the program with a focus on their unique behaviors and what is best to encourage them to learn difficult academic or self-care tasks in a non-stressful learning environment.

She said one family in the original group took the data gathered about their child and obtained a dog and will train it as a service dog because of the benefits the data showed for their child.

“This is definitely a strength,” Protopopova said. “Instead of a group design and us concluding that the average child would benefit from some procedure, which is not really that meaningful to individual families, we can give each family specific answers whether their child would or would not benefit from a dog.”

One major question to come out of the preliminary research, she said, is whether using a shelter dog to encourage behavior can be used to determine the severity of the disability. Does it work on children who are higher- or lower-functioning?

Protopopova and other researchers are beginning another one to answer new questions that rose from the original, smaller study.

The larger study will involve at least 30 children, and they are actively recruiting children to enter the study. Those children must be between the ages of 2 and 14 with autism spectrum disorder and/or other developmental disabilities.

The hope is the larger study will allow the research to be used in schools and centers on a regular basis.

“There we can answer more generalized questions,” Protopopova said. “How useful is this and who is it most useful for? Can we tell which children are going to benefit and which ones will not? So when we get those answers we are going to be a bit closer to really giving that program out to schools to say, ‘we have strong evidence that it will be useful for this person or not for this person.”

Source:  Texas Tech University media statement

Pet therapy can combat homesickness

The expression dog is man’s best friend might have more weight in the case of first-year university students suffering from homesickness, according to a new UBC study.

The study shows that animal-assisted therapy can help students combat homesickness and could be a useful tool in lowering post-secondary drop-out rates.

homesickness-research-photo

John Tyler Binfet, seen with his dog Frances, conducted a study on the effect of pet therapy on homesickness. Binfet runs the Building Academic Retention Through K’9s (B.A.R.K.) program at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Credit: UBC

“Transitioning from high school to university can prove to be a challenge for many first-year students,” says Assistant Professor John Tyler Binfet of UBC’s Okanagan campus.

“Given that students who experience homesickness are more likely than their non-homesick cohorts to drop out of university, universities have a vested interest in supporting students during their first-year transition.”

In the study, 44 first-year university students who self-identified as homesick were given a survey to measure levels of homesickness, satisfaction with life and connectedness with campus. Half of the students completed eight weeks of dog therapy, while the other half were informed that their sessions would begin in eight weeks’ time. Dog therapy included 45-minute weekly sessions involving small group interactions with the dogs and handlers, and engagement with other first-year students participating in the study.

Following the initial eight-week session, participants in both the treatment group and the non-treatment group completed the survey again.

Participants who completed the eight-week program experienced significant reductions in homesickness and greater increase in satisfaction with life. Participants reported that sessions “felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies.” While the non-treatment group reported an increase in their feelings of homesickness.

According to a 2009 report conducted for B.C. Stats, students who left post-secondary happy were almost twice as likely to have felt a sense of belonging compared to students who left unhappy. Students who left university unhappy were almost twice as likely to say they did not feel a sense of belonging on campus.

A total of 29 per cent of students who dropped out cited more interactions and friendships with other students as a factor that would have influenced their decision to stay longer.

While further study is needed, a university’s ability to influence campus connections could be a useful tool in lowering drop-out rates in first-year students, says Binfet.

“Many first-year university students face the challenge of integrating into their new campus community,” says Binfet. “Homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university.”

“Moving to a new city, I did not know anyone at the university and became very homesick and depressed,” says UBC Okanagan student Varenka Kim. “I was mainly secluded in my dorm room and did not feel like I belonged here. Coming to animal assisted therapy sessions every Friday gave me a sense of purpose and kept me enthusiastic about life.”

Source:  University of British Columbia media release

The companionship of dogs helps kids undergoing cancer treatment

Although survival rates for children diagnosed with cancer have increased dramatically over the past 40 years, hard evidence of proven psychosocial benefits to improve quality of life among patients and families during treatment has remained elusive.

Many hospitals have therapy dogs who visit with patients, and anecdotal evidence underscores the positive impact these programs have on children with cancer and their families.

Preliminary findings from a new, multi-center trial provides some of the first quantitative data to validate these claims.  The study, to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in Washington, DC, collected data on blood pressure, pulse rates and anxiety levels of children before and after a weekly visit from a therapy dog. During the visits, children pet or talk to the dog, brush its fur, view the dog’s photos, watch the dog practicing tricks or commands, and learn about dog breeds.

Photo courtesy of University of Texas Health Science Center

Photo courtesy of University of Texas Health Science Center

Preliminary findings show that blood pressure readings in the group receiving animal-assisted interventions remains more stable across all sessions than in the control group, said lead researcher Amy McCullough, Ph.D., National Director of Humane Research and Therapy for the American Humane Association. Similarly, there was a higher degree of variability in heart rate within the control group patients than with the treatment group patients.

“These findings suggest that the dog may have a calming effect on the patient,” Dr. McCullough said.

In addition to the effects on pulse and heart rate to date, preliminary results indicate the canine encounters appear to improve anxiety levels among parents. Parents in the control group report fluctuating anxiety levels with peaks and valleys; parents in the treatment group show more consistency in anxiety levels, and even a small decline in anxiety levels by the end of their participating in the study. Overall, children in both groups saw a decrease in anxiety over the course of their study enrollment. Researchers are also gauging the therapy dogs’ temperament and behavior during the visits.

“This study will be a milestone in understanding of the benefits of the vital bond shared between people and animals,” Dr. McCullough said.

Source:  American Academy of Pediatrics media release

Even a short visit can improve the day

Snowy and Mum

A dog doesn’t have to be a certified therapy dog to brighten someone’s day – it just needs to be well-trained and sociable.

Here is Snowy, a Labradoodle, with my Mum.  Snowy lives next door and makes visits for cuddles and treats (but especially treats).

If you have elderly people in your neighborhood, consider reaching out to them with your well-behaved dog.  A visit by a friendly dog can really brighten the day.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Norbert: the little therapy dog with a series of books

Norbert

Norbert shows his High Five (photo courtesy of Norberthood.com)

Norbert is a special therapy dog.  He’s a very tiny (3-pound) cross-breed who was the only puppy born to his dog mother in California.  His owners believe he is a Chihuahua, Cairn Terrier  and Lhasa Apso cross.  Adopted in 2009 from PetFinder.com, Norbert was his human mother’s first-ever dog and he traveled to Boston to live with her.

At the age of one, he passed his therapy dog tests and began working with children and the elderly. Along the way he learned new tricks like High Five, Namaste (stay) and Zen (lie down).

Then his mom decided to write a book, and then another, and (soon) another….

Book 1: Norbert - What can little me do?

Book 1: Norbert – What can little me do?

Book 2: Norbert - What can little you do?

Book 2: Norbert – What can little you do?

Book 3 (due out in November 2015): Norbert & Lil Bub - What can little we do?

Book 3 (due out in November 2015): Norbert & Lil Bub – What can little we do?

Therapy dogs are special dogs providing important emotional support services to those in need.  I like the fact that there are children’s books featuring Norbert – if we tell children about dogs and their personalities, and teach them lessons along the way, we set them up to be compassionate adults who are prepared to be responsible pet owners.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

A therapy dog to help mourners

Say ‘therapy dog’ and most people will think of hospitals, rest homes, and mental health services.  Some may also think about dogs supporting witnesses when they have their day in court….but now there’s a growing use of therapy dogs in funeral homes.

This video, from the Ballard-Durand funeral home in New York, promotes Lulu, a Goldendoodle, who can be booked on request for funeral services.

The loss of a loved one and funerals, in general, are times of great emotional stress.  How nice it is that dogs are offering comfort in these situations and that they are being accepted by professional funeral directors.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand