Canine Assisted Therapy

Courage - Our canine therapist


Courage and Tuppence are two of the “4 legged variety” of therapists at the Family Christian Counseling Center. They have both been around the offices at the Center helping children heal for many years. Any dog that is used by a therapist at the Center must be evaluated and pass the therapy dog exam given by an outside agency. To belong to Therapy Dogs International or Delta Dogs all dogs must be tested and evaluated by a certified evaluator. A dog must be a minimum of one (1) year of age and have a sound temperament. Each dog must pass a temperament evaluation for suitability to become a Therapy Dog. The test also includes the evaluation of the dog’s behavior around people with the use of some type of service equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, etc.).

Often a dog is the last thing a child expects to see when they come into the Center.  You will find that even if they miss their pets at home, and although the therapy dog isn’t their dog, it is a furry, loveable dog, and therefore a perfect diversion from the trauma they have experienced. Both Courage and Tuppence work with therapists who have attended training in using canine assisted therapy.

I was reading a few studies about animal assisted therapy and thought I would share a few of the articles with you today.

Therapy dogs and PDD

The first article I read was titledAnimal-Assisted Therapy for Children with Pervasive Developmental Disordersby Martin and Farnum published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research. The researcher’s evaluated the effects of interaction of dogs and children with PDD (Pervasive developmental disorders) characterized by a lack of social communication and ability. Three different conditions were evaluated while the child was interacting with a therapist: a) a toy ball, b) a stuffed dog, and c) a live dog.  Results showed that children exhibited a more playful mood, they were more focused, and were more aware of their social surroundings when in the presence of a therapy dog. This article was published in February of 2016.

Therapy dogs and cancer treatment

The second article was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics and is titledResearch Suggests that Canine Companionship helps Calm Children undergoing Cancer Treatment. The study collected data on blood pressure, pulse rates and anxiety levels of children before and after a visit from a therapy dog. During the visits, children pet or talk to the dog, brush its fur, view the dog's photos and watch the dog practicing tricks or commands. Preliminary findings showed that blood pressure readings in the group working with the therapy dog remains more stable across all sessions than in the control group. There also was a higher degree of variability in heart rate within the control group patients than with the treatment group patients.

Therapy dogs and ADHD

The third study was titledComplementary psychosocial interventions in child and adolescent psychiatry: pet assisted therapy. This was very interesting to me because it discussed using therapy pets in clinical interventions and what effects have been documented in the research.  Pilot studies report promising changes in social behavior and control of motor performance in children with ADHD. Also in children who have experienced abuse, pets have reduced trauma symptoms as shown by a study reported in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

We hope you find the “4 legged therapists” to be a valuable addition to the Center and the process of healing. Bruce Perry also recommends canine assisted therapy in helping traumatized children heal. To learn more about the Centers approach with therapy for traumatized children please click.


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