What is animal assisted therapy?
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) is a new concept of support and assistance to people with disabilities whose central axis is guided or animal assisted therapy, which includes dog-assisted therapy (DAT)
The latest research shows that such therapies, both for people with physical and mental functional diversity are tremendously effective. The social problem of functional diversity in today’s world requires a new approach providing a more dynamic and versatile support that really benefits the person with disabilities.
Dogs develop many emotional levels of the user. They are playful, affectionate and are faithful to their owner throughout their life. In addition, to their company, the dog favors the creation of a new type of nonverbal language which charges a stimulating factor that becomes essential for an effective therapy to work at all levels.
Several studies indicate that, in their interaction with dogs, people with disabilities develop social, emotional and motor skills. The main objective of AAT is a good improvement on a physical, mental, social, emotional, linguistic and / or cognitive level for the participant who benefits from it.
In order to provide good assisted therapy there should be collaboration between psychologists, therapists and canine educators in designing programs for progress in the rehabilitation of patients who are receiving the help of animals. In addition, of course, you must have good dogs that are loving and obedient.
As a charity, the Canis Majoris Foundation has this work as one of its main assets and the therapies are aimed at people with psychical, sensory or mental functional diversity.
A day in therapy
The Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) sessions offered by the Canis Majoris Foundation with their dogs and educators have an average duration of 50 minutes with groups ranging from 4 to 8 participants, who are all people with functional diversity. There are two basic underlying ideas behind each session: that participants learn to interact verbally, physically and emotionally with the animals as well as other participants, and secondly, the ultimate welfare of the dog, which is not a mere work item, but rather a pet to take care of and pamper. The AAT programs offered by the Foundation to each group last 8 months, comprising of a weekly session and are usually carried out in centers of the Community of Madrid. All sessions are supported by one or more therapists belonging to the center as they are the ones who really know the participants.
Each session begins with a series of routines that allow the user to identify the session as a work day in which certain obligations are required. Participants learn to prepare the water and prizes or rewards for the dogs to receive at the end of the session and also tidy up the hall once the session has ended.
Among the routine exercises are the participants greeting and subsequent farewell to the dog. From the start of each session the participants interact with the dog in a way that their own cognitive,physical and emotional development are stimulated. The foundation’s AAT therapists assure us that after just three or four sessions most participants show clear improvement in their manner of physical and verbal expression, not only with Mía, Mapa, Moon, Amazon or Minnie (the AAT therapy dogs),but also among themselves.
Each session is different although normally, with the odd exception, they undergo basic dog training exercises; sit, laydown, paw giving. They work toward the dog’s hygiene, walks in the street, memory exercises about the breed and training of the dog, even emotion workshops. Participants lose their fear of the dog from the very first days, reducing their body rigidity and very rapidly developing their non-verbal communication as they begin to realize that the dogs understand the commands better if these are expressed with their body. The response they receive from the animal is always the same: gratitude, joy and affection.
Different capacities are developed depending on the type of exercise being done in each session. At first, these exercises are brief so that the participants do not get tired nor frustrated if they do not manage to do them correctly, although as they advance in their therapy, the participants learn to persevere in their efforts and extend the duration of the exercises. The improvement in this aspect is quite evident.
The only area that is not developed nor required are the expressions and gestures of affection, so that the participants are able to express their love toward the animal how and when they please.