"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion."
– Unknown Author
Calo Canine Therapy Department utilizes Golden retrievers to help students experientially live and learn the Calo model. Through daily interactions with the canines, the students develop a deeper understanding of commitment, acceptance, secure relationships, and attunement (CASA). The students will experience making mistakes with the canines and feel empathy, love, and acceptance as the canine quickly forgives and provides unconditional love. This allows the student to practice safe and healthy attachment, with the ultimate goal of transferring those relationship skills to safe human relationships (transferable attachment).
Students are automatically enrolled in the Canine Therapy Program upon admission to calo. All students interested in fostering and/or adopting a Calo canine will complete sequential requirements leading up to fostering and/or adopting a Calo canine. This process is similar in many ways to the human foster/adoption experience and closely resembles the family services model many of our parents and/or students have experienced.
Studies have supported what has been observed at Calo; canines have a calming effect on humans by regulating blood pressure and heart rate. Dysregulated students have often turned to their safe friend for comfort and companionship when having a difficult time emotionally. Additionally, golden retrievers provide safe touch through playful and loving acceptance. Students who have been inappropriately touched, abused, or never had the calming physical closeness they deserved earlier in life find safety in learning this safe touch through these amazing animals.
Students help their canine develop through training and leading the canines to be self-regulated and follow their adolescent leader (co-regulation). Typically, canines don’t respond well unless given clear communication and direction from a caregiver. As a result, students learn healthy ways to assert themselves and how they send and receive verbal and non-verbal messages. Further, canines quickly acclimate to the rhythm of a student and match his/her energy. Thus, canines provide feedback to students-when to be calm and in control when it is time to play.
The primary purpose of the canine therapy program is to empower students to experience Interdependence – healthy, affectionate, reciprocal relationships. Canines help accomplish this through their instinctive ability to provide unconditional love. This provides a unique opportunity for the adolescent to practice healthy attachment with a non-threatening friend.
When students make mistakes with the canines, much like parents make mistakes with their children, the golden retriever forgives the student. This immediate forgiveness allows the student to see the value of being less judgmental, rigid, and more forgiving of others and themselves. Most importantly, the process of reciprocity, connection-break-repair, and mutual giving and taking increases a student’s self-worth. As a result, the student is better prepared to experience their emotional difficulties knowing they are loved and valued.
All Calo students will have the opportunity to connect with the canines and learn to invest in their physical and emotional needs. Students will have the opportunity to choose to be a foster parent for a canine and gain the valuable interpersonal and life lessons the canines offer. Some students will advance in the program to be eligible to adopt a canine and provide them with a forever home, encouraging a long-term relationship. On a smaller scale, this adoption process mirrors the adoption experience that families go through when adopting a child (application, essays, home study, placement, finalization, etc.). Empathy is experienced by the students as they struggle through the adoption journey and realize the work their own adoptive parents endured in welcoming them as a child in their family.
Ultimately, the canine-adolescent relationship allows students to develop an understanding of parental love, something we at Calo refer to as “transferable attachment.” The very core lesson that countless conversations and traditional talk therapy never taught a student over the years is finally discovered experientially as a student is vulnerable to a loving, safe animal – “If my parents love me more than I love my canine, I do feel safe. I really can trust that they won’t leave me, hurt me or intentionally do harm.”
Since Josh's enrollment at Calo, I have seen the canine program being an important and effective part of Josh's therapy. I think that Josh has the ability to attach to and care for a dog. I know that Josh looks forward to adopting his own dog and will love and care for it. We will also welcome the dog into the family here at the house when Josh would come home.
– Calo Parent
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