A Love Dog Adventure is where the power of pets is harnessed to create unique experiences for a variety of populations, combining animal-assisted activity with animal-assisted therapy.
Most people are familiar with animal-assisted activities when animals are brought into health or educational facilities to spend time together, enjoy the closeness and comfort of an animal. There is no direct supervision by a related professional, the visits can be spontaneous and involve many people at a time and have no stated outcome or goal. This is what is known as the Meet and Greet visit.
Animal-assisted therapy on the other hand requires utilizing the animal and handler as part of the care team. The sessions are scheduled with specific clients, and are supervised, guided and documented to bring about a pre-determined goal outcome. Examples include one dog, one client, one handler, health professionals to direct a session of occupational therapy whereby the animal team is selected because of the specific skill set of the team. This may be a dog capable of “backing up” so someone can walk towards them in whatever pace they are working to accomplish.
Or a dog that is proficient with the Pet Partners technique of walking with a double-leash. Where the second leash is attached to the dog is critical to the success of this therapy technique.
Or a dog that can be extremely still for long periods of time while someone uses a weak hand to brush, clip on leashes, stroke or lift a paw.
Or a dog brought in to spend a session with a child on the autism spectrum, working to improve eye contact or cognitive awareness. The animal team is chosen carefully, scheduled, prepared in advance for what the goal is, and directed by the professional and a stated goal for that particular session is targeted.
A Love Dog Adventure combines the two modalities and harnesses the power of the pets to bring about a unique experience for the client or clients.
It may be a field trip with multiply challenged youth to a park. They have blankets to sit or lie and they are paired with dog teams. We may have one child with several dogs or one-on-one teams. Health professionals are one-to-one ratio with the youth supervising the activity. Each achievement is documented such as a child turning to the dog, starting with hand-over-hand touching and perhaps graduating to touching the animal on their own.
Simply being with the animal provides an enriching environment, coupled with being outdoors or in new surroundings can bring about miracles.
Another example of a Love Dog Adventure is bringing select clients to meet a Delta Pet Partners therapy horse at the stables. The van ride itself, being outside in a new place with new sounds and smells and sights, having a one-on-one experience with a horse is beneficial and brings about small successes in a multitude of areas.
It may be ongoing scheduled sessions with a blind child working on the concept of making direct eye contact with someone speaking to them. The goal is “turning towards the sound.” The original Love Dog, Coco, spent many months working with one child having that child turn to the dog when she barked. You needed a very steady dog that would not bark inappropriately or too loudly and a dog that would sustain the position chosen. As the child turned towards the dog’s vocalization, the child was directed to put her hand out and she got a sweet Coco kiss. That kiss was the reward for both child and dog.
So when people think of therapy animals, take into consideration their training, level of abilities, handler skill and knowledge and how the very special power of pets can be harnessed for specific task and goals.