Monday, February 06, 2006

Animal Assisted Therapy. Notes on Dogs


Hearing Dogs. They go to sound and return to owner over and over, whether a fire alarm, phone, door bell, baby crying, car honking. In an emergency, they lie at your feet and don’t move to let you know you have to leave the building. They can alert you to things like the kettle boiling, the timer or the alarm clock. All Hearing Dogs are taken from the dog pound put through two weeks training; if they are suitable they continue in the course: if not they are returned to pound. Hearing Dogs are always trained in a Hearing Dog centre.

Seizure Dogs (for epileptics). Incredibly, they can tell up to 20 minutes before a seizure and they alert their companion to go inside, where they can take medication, or to put guard in their mouth, or to lie down, as appropriate. The dog stays with their companion until help comes or the seizure ends. There are two theories on this, that the dog sees an aura change or he smells a chemical imbalance. No one knows.

Hearing Dogs and Seizure Dogs are still only found in the USA.

Seeing Eye Dogs (for The Blind). The dog guides the blind, alerts them to dangers and situations, helps them navigate and is their companion. In Spain, the dogs are trained and bred on site. In USA, dogs go to a foster home for the first year. The foster parent must attend classes every week. There are many rules for the training of a Seeing Eye dog, such as they can’t chase Frisbees or balls or so on.

Assistance Dogs. These dogs understand a large vocabulary and do every thing from helping a person to walk by giving impulsion and balance, to doing the shopping. In home-care, the dogs learn to recognise alarm sounds for medical equipment and to pick up the phone (in the USA, the phones will automatically connect to the emergency services if several numbers are pushed simultaneously) and to bark until police arrive. This telephone system is not in place as yet in Spain but Telefonica is working on it. Assistance Dogs pick up things, help remove clothes, carry items – all with their mouth. A notable example being Susan Duncan’s Joey.

All working dogs wear a jacket or harness to identify the work they are doing. They soon learn, as must the public, that the dog may not be played with or distracted during this time. When the jacket is off, the dog knows it is ‘free time’.

It must always be said in any presentation about the animal - what ever it is - horse or dog - that you are ‘incorporating it in your work’ not ‘using’. The word ‘using’ might suggest ‘abusing’! In England, dogs are not allowed to pull wheelchair etc. although in other countries they are.

Animals have no prejudice. It is beneficial for a disabled person to care for a living being - instead of feeling that they are always being on the receiving end. Other benefits include the fact that you can talk to them and tell them your problems and they are not judgmental. Touching the fur of a rabbit or a cat has been proven beneficial for arthritis and other muscular disorders.

After training, all dogs must go through a ‘getting acquainted time’ to see if the pair connect and if the person can control the dog. Then, once a match has been made, they must go to a retraining course every year. The dogs must be well behaved because they go to public places and must be kept pest-free and clean.

Choosing a puppy for certain tasks. There are a series of tests all potential candidates must go through to see if they will be suitable for the job. I shall come back to this later.

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