There’s a reason that dogs are known as “Man’s Best Friend.” Centuries of companionship have proven the fidelity, love, and intelligence that dogs are capable of, and any dog owner will tell you how comforting dogs can be in the midst of trying circumstances. Studies have shown that dogs have a positive impact in therapeutic settings for people of all ages, and particularly in children’s mental health services.
For many children recovering from trauma or dealing with mental illness, building relationships can be difficult. Healthy relationships are crucial to a child’s recovery, and therapy dogs provide a unique opportunity for children who may feel isolated from other people by circumstance or by mental illness. Ever-forgiving and capable of unconditional love, a therapy dog can provide children with a loving relationship that will not only help in their immediate recovery but also help them develop lifelong relational skills.
Children who struggle to regulate emotions are often taught to engage with sensory details as a way to create mindfulness, a practice which helps them to ground themselves in the midst of emotional turmoil and keep their thoughts and emotions in the present, rather than dwell on past trauma. Playing with and petting a dog can help a child to be present and alert, focusing on sensory details while receiving the positive stimulus of socializing with the dog. Interacting with dogs has also been shown to help children release stress, cueing physical signs of relief such as lowered heart rate, regulated breathing, and decreased the release of stress hormones.
In addition to helping throughout the day, many children benefit from having a dog present during therapy sessions, as the dog can make them more comfortable and help them to communicate thoughts and feelings that may be otherwise difficult to discuss. Children who have difficulty talking directly to therapists may find it easier to talk to or through the dog or may need the emotional support the dog can provide during the session.
Read more about the benefits of therapy dogs in children’s mental health settings at: http://www.youthdynamics.org/five-benefits-of-dogs-on-childrens-mental-health/.
In May of 2007, Archibald Razz MaTazz, or Archie for short, became the first therapy dog to walk the halls of Casa Pacifica. He was well loved by everyone and found his way into the hearts of children and staff alike. Sadly, Archie passed on in 2015, however, his legacy is continued by his nephews, Baker and Otis Chandler Bing. Read more about Archie, Baker, and Otis, as well as the impact that therapy dogs have had on Casa Pacifica at: https://www.casapacifica.org/about/archie_the_dog.