Animal Assisted Therapy
By Tiarn Yorke
You may have noticed a new (furry) face around the Early Links offices lately. He may have visited you in a session, or you’ve seen him on our Facebook page, or maybe you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him yet. Arlo, our very first therapy animal, has been making his way around the offices, bringing smiles to both clients and staff.
You’ve probably heard of animal-assisted therapy before, but have you ever wondered what is involved and how these cuddly creatures can help people reach their therapy goals?
Animal-assisted therapy involves a trained therapist using an animal, most commonly a dog, as part of a therapy plan to help clients achieve their goals. These can include:
- Community participation and confidence in new settings or with new activities
- Social skills such as understanding body language, social cues and turn-taking
- Emotional regulation through the calming effect of an animal and supporting other emotional regulation strategies
- Communication and language development by encouraging communication of wants and needs to the animal
- Gross and fine motor development, including mobility and motor planning skills
- Self-care skills, in particular dressing and feeding, through modelling care tasks with the animal
- Play skills through engaging the animal in imaginative play or role-play.
Using animals in sessions can also increase engagement and motivation during therapy sessions, as a therapy animal is a source of calming and non-judgmental support.
Arlo the Golden Retriever has been working with his mum Ally, one of our Physiotherapy Senior Leaders, for the past few months. He comes from a family of therapy dogs (his mum is a Delta therapy dog), and his gentle temperament and love of kids made him an excellent candidate for the role. Arlo’s training was completed through Therapy Dogs Australia and he worked with a trainer locally when he was 12 months old.
Many of Arlo’s sessions with clients involve “Zones of Regulation” activities, such as building obstacle courses, animal walk races against Arlo, and playing games like hide & seek and tag. Arlo also has a fine motor skill/sensory vest where treats can be hidden for clients to find.
He can be motivation for handwriting (e.g., writing letters to Arlo or writing about him) and practising speech sounds. He can also help clients learn turn-taking during games, work on social communication by asking Arlo questions and learning his social cues. He is an excellent motivation for clients to participate in sessions, can help them engage for longer, and make them want to come to therapy.
Welcoming a new team member
Our therapy dog team is expanding! Dash the Bordoodle (Border Collie x Poodle) has recently finished his therapy dog training and is ready to get to work with his mum Steph, one of our Occupational Therapy Senior Leaders. Dash completed his training at Kaysadale Farm and will be available to support clients of all ages. Keep an eye out for more information on Dash’s availability.
Dash at his therapy training graduation
Want to know more?
You can find out more about the support our therapy dogs can provide by getting in touch using the form below.
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