We are frequently asked about our canine program. Common inquiries are, “Why dogs and not horses or something else?” “Will you have other animals?” “My child has their own dog [or cat] at home, can’t we just send that one?” “Don’t canines get in the way of human relationships?”
Let me take a couple of minutes to highlight our canine program which will answer these common questions. Students struggling with boundaries, self-awareness, emotional hurt, and lack of empathy benefit from caring for animals. Animals which are effective at regulating and healing such issues include horses, chimpanzees, monkey’s apes, dolphins, and, you guessed it, canines. Primary reasons we have canines at CALO include:
Teachers—there are few coaches, school teachers, or therapists at CALO, amazing as they are, who are able to teach certain lessons as well as the canines. Our goldens are the best teachers to our students about our model. Students know they need to feed, water, and physically care for canines despite how they are feeling in the moment (Trust of Care). Our students also know that if they do not discipline and train their canine they will not be able to attach to or gain the respect of their canine (Trust of Control). Students also find incredible satisfaction in helping their canine reach the point of self-regulation (Trust of Self) without repeated prompts or interventions. Our canines do an amazing job of consistently responding with love in the relationship (Interdependence). These amazing golden retrievers show unconditional love and forgiveness to our students; attacking their negative core beliefs and self-worth.
Accessible—unlike horses, monkeys or dolphins, canines are easily accessible during ups and downs. Recently a student left her therapy session and immediately sought out a canine in the milieu and was able to take the canine with her to school. The canine, due to being so easily accessible, provided incredible response time and regulating ability for this young woman. There are numerous other times in which students, thanks to the accessibility and companionship with canines, are able to deepen such relationships.
Regulating—It has actually been proven through research that canines have a calming effect on humans. Humans holding, petting or simply remaining in close proximity to canines are helped with such issues as anxiety, depression, and heart-rate. A parent recently sent us an article about the impact canines are having with war veterans struggling with trauma and PTSD: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/us/04dogs.html?emc=eta1
Domestic—Due to mood regulation, trauma, and attachment being common issues among our students, allowing students to bond with a canine in treatment with an opportunity to leave CALO with their canine prevents feelings of abandonment, rejection, low-self worth, and shame. We love when students are able to finalize their adoption with a canine as ownership of the canine at that point belongs to the student and not CALO. This further provides therapeutic insights and opportunity which are similar to their own experiences.
Physical—unlike other animals, golden retrievers are the perfect size to hold, touch, pet, and cuddle with in good times and in bad. Golden retrievers have been known to be “perpetual puppies” because they are child-like for so long—further providing a metaphor for students that they, much like their parents and adults do for them, need to discipline and help regulate.
Transferable— the student-canine relationship provides easy access to the student’s other relationships, particularly the student’s relationship with his/her parents or attachment figures. Effective parents, staff and peers are able to highlight similarities -- "I notice you are sometimes passive in caring for your canine. This is how I have felt a at times being around you.” "Johnny, at times I have noticed you are a bit to harsh or rough in disciplining your canine. Is there any correlation to how you were treated and how you treat your canine?" "You really seem to know your canine will love you no matter what. Do you know your parents feel the same way about you?” These transferable insights are a catalyst for change and remind us how precious and amazing these canines are.