For centuries, animals have improved our lives through their companionship, hard work, and healing influence. How many times have we looked to our pets for a comforting hug? Or to make us laugh? Dogs are a great fit for therapy as they have a calming influence and can dispel anxiety and tension.
Animal Assisted Therapy is a goal-directed therapy that involves animals as an integral form of treatment. The therapist conducts the session using the dog as a way to facilitate the development of skills needed. The dog is used as a means to help motivate the child to engage in specific “goal related” activities such as improving fine motor and gross motor skills, range of motion, communication, play and social skills, self care skills, sequencing, and memory.
Many studies support the therapeutic use of animals to enhance communication, socialization, active movement, and play for participants. A therapist who brings along a trained facility dog may be viewed as less threatening, increasing the rapport between the child and therapist and can significantly increase a child’s ability to participate. During a session, you might see the dog distracting a child with cuddles while the child is being stretched, or the child feeding the dog treats from tongs in order to work on hand strength and coordination. The dog is often used as a motivator or a distraction to enhance the therapy’s results.
Progressive Pediatric Therapy now offers Animal Assisted Therapy through one of its Occupational Therapists, Willow Rossi, and her trained service dog, Tippy. Willow said, “When I arrive with Tippy, the children respond with excitement and enthusiasm, always looking forward to the next visit with their furry therapist.”
The animals used in Animal Assisted Therapy have had extensive training. Tippy, Willow’s furry therapy friend, is a black lab and a fully trained service dog and certified facility dog receiving more than 3,000 hours of service dog training.
In general, animal assisted therapy offers children with disabilities an opportunity for companionship and a chance to build self-esteem through fun goal related animal assisted activities. Talk to your child’s therapist to see if Tippy would be a great fit.