Nothing is more fun than watching dogs at play. Lucky Marc Bekoff spent decades researching playful dogs and says they send messages to each other with body movements. We’ve all seen our own dogs do the most used, the play bow. They use this pose to say, “I’m ready! let’s play!”
Dr. Bekoff, an ethologist, has written quite a few books on animals, their love of play and their morality. After studying an enormous amount of video footage, Dr. Bekoff found several interesting behaviors when dogs interact. Once of these behaviors is “self-handicapping”, in which bigger dogs will realize their size advantage when playing with smaller dogs and will allow them to jump on them or even roll over to give the smaller dog a better chance. Dr. Bekoff says this behavior suggests dogs adhere to a sort of morality. His research as well as that of others supports the idea that dogs play fair which scientists had believed was a uniquely human trait.
Other studies have shown that dogs understand a wide range of emotions like empathy and inequality, which probably does not come as a surprise to those of us with dogs in our lives. Tests have revealed that dogs will lick or nuzzle others that are crying to show support. Some dogs will not perform certain trained movements like shaking hands for a treat in front of other dogs due to feeling privileged.
For more interesting reading pick up Dr. Bekoff’s new book, Canine Confidential: An Insider Guide to the Best Lives for Dogs and Us.
Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD) change lives but so can your dog by becoming a therapy dog. There are many jobs a well trained family dog can perform that will help raise awareness of the importance of service dogs in general and Psychiatric Service Dogs in particular. In addition to the basic training described below for therapy dogs a PSD requires specialized training to perform the specific duties required by their handlers. This can take many many months to complete.
Therapy dogs are trained to be good canine citizens as well as how to handle themselves in many situations. Not everyone gets to see a PSD in action but, in many places, everyday people can see how therapy dogs relax and sooth those around them even in some of the most stressful situations, fostering a broader understanding of how dogs may help and in some cases heal those with mental illness.
“A therapy dog is someone’s pet that is highly trained, can be easily controlled around other dogs, is very social and enjoys interacting with all ages and types of people and has been tested and certified through a recognized therapy dog organization.”
That’s quite a mouthful but it’s not good enough to just have a sweet easy going dog. You must be able to trust how he/she will react in almost any situation. Dogs and other therapy animals can make a world of difference in nursing homes, classrooms (read to a dog), family shelters and other places where people find themselves in need of a soothing presence.
If you’d like to give it a try, read this article for more information and resources.
Excerpt from the book, “Healing Companions: Ordinary Dogs And Their Extraordinary Power To Transform Lives,” by Jane Miller – Introduction: How the Healing Journey Began
Several years ago I discovered something powerful about the dogs who share many of our lives. While all dogs provide love, comfort, joy, and support, for some people, dogs actually have the ability to transform lives. Although I have been in clinical practice as a therapist for years, this isn’t something I learned through professional training. The catalyst was a tiny furball named Umaya who came home with me on Christmas Eve. Here’s how our journey began…
In our fast-paced world, doctors are often quick to advise patients suffering from traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional and psychological problems that their ills can be solved through the use of one medication or another. Too many people think the pill itself is a “magic bullet” that will make their lives happier, easier, and more secure. It isn’t. Medications must be taken under careful supervision, and many anti-depressant drugs carry the risk of negative side effects, including in extreme cases suicidal tendencies. While many individuals do require medication, which has helped countless people, there are other pill-free choices that are extremely beneficial and may not have been considered. For many people one choice that they may have never heard of, either by itself or in combination with drug therapy and psychotherapy, might make all the difference.
Service Dogs have been assisting the blind, the hearing-impaired, and those in wheelchairs and with other disabilities for a long time. There are also Therapy Dogs who help enhance quality of life for many people by visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions providing comfort and support. Umaya’s strength and calming influence were a revelation to me, and when I saw the way that my clients responded to her, I began to realize that having a dog could have a profound impact on some of my clients’ lives.
This is not just the story of our journey, however; it’s a window onto the world of Psychiatric Service Dogs for people with invisible disabilities, showing how the dogs can change and enhance the lives of their human companions. In the following chapters, we’ll meet some of these amazing dogs and see how they have helped a number of individuals improve their lives in profound and unexpected ways, allowing them to gain self-esteem, self-confidence, assertiveness, and so much more. These dogs provide emotional support, as all dogs do, but they are specifically trained to perform certain tasks unique to the individual’s needs. Through the stories of these dogs, I hope to show how you, a friend, or a family member how they might benefit from such a healing companion.
In addition to these remarkable stories, this book will also explain which dogs are the right candidates for the job, which dogs are not, and how to tell the difference. Here’s a hint: it has nothing to do with the dog’s breed. Mixed breed dogs are very well suited to assist those with invisible disabilities. These dogs can be in-home companions or full-time Service Dogs who also accompany their companions out in public and to work. I’ll discuss how these dogs are trained, how the dog may impact other members of the family, and how to make life more comfortable and less stressful for the dogs while they are undertaking their essential tasks. I’ll also provide a helpful list of resources for further information, support, and services.
For anyone who may not know about the profound benefits that these service dogs may bring, as well as for anyone who loves dogs and enjoys learning more about their value to their companions, I hope this book will serve as an informative, practical, and inspirational guide.
Umaya started me on this extraordinary path. Now, share the journey of my clients and others who have opened their hearts to a service dog and found a healing beyond their expectations.
To learn more join us in our journey: Healing Companions’ benefit to our community is three-fold: a shelter dog’s life is saved; the trained psychiatric service dog provides a friend, family member, or neighbor who has mental illness with assistance that promotes a higher level of functioning and participation in society; and the inmate who has trained the dog gains both job skills and “soft skills” that help them obtain jobs and contribute to their communities upon release.
Our psychiatric service dogs all begin as shelter dogs. In meeting and assessing these dogs, we are acutely aware of the need to help dogs cope with stress. Even the best shelters are still not loving homes or the jobs many working dogs need to live satisfying lives.
On March 9th, Healing Companions held an afternoon of stress reduction/relaxation techniques for over twenty inmates and the shelter dogs they train in their basic skills. The training provided to shelter dogs by these inmates helps even those dogs that do not go on to become psychiatric service dogs be more adoptable. Those that do go on to be qualified to enter our program can begin their extensive public access and task training to start their journey as psychiatric service dogs in training.
This training for inmates and their trainees was presented by Jane Miller, LISW, CDBC, AABP-CDBT, Executive Director, Healing Companions, Inc.. The presentation is filled with relaxation techniques for humans and their dogs incorporating many complimentary modalities of healing. These include canine massotherapy, breathing techniques, canine body language and calming signals, acupressure points, reiki and many other approaches that can help reduce human and animal anxiety, stress, arousal and fear. So many of the shelter dogs that we train have high levels of stress, anxiety, arousal and fear, as do their human trainers, so these methods are crucial to help everyone work well together. This interaction also helps to increase cortisol levels and the human-animal bond. Safe, calm and relaxed humans and animals can focus and work well together. A win-win for everyone involved!
Stay tuned…video coming soon…then join us and watch the inmates participate in and practice these techniques and you will have the opportunity to view this training session .
Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about these techniques you can CLICK HERE for more information and to sign up and listen to this pre-recorded webinar:
Dogs Have Issues Too: Helping Dogs Cope With Stress
This webinar presentation is a very brief overview/introduction to helping dogs cope with stress. Jane Miller provides a number of stress reduction/relaxation techniques along with monitoring methods. This is a basic introduction to stress reduction/relaxation techniques covering the definition of stress, eustress and distress. We will not be focusing on the brain’s role in this first introduction to stress.
The stress reduction techniques that are discussed include breathing, acupressure points, TTouch, canine massotherapy, reiki, meditation, and biofeedback etc. The monitoring methods of stress are addressed. These include, stress signs/body language, cortisol levels from saliva, urine and hair, heart rate and variable heart rates, breathing rates, pulse, vagal tone, biofeedback, and MRIs. Some are controversial in that they are costly and invasive and may cause stress levels to increase by the testing itself.
What is meant by good stress eustress vs. bad stress distress
Various stress reduction techniques to add to your toolbox since different methods work for different dogs…one size does not fit all
An introduction to breathing techniques, acupressure points, TTouch, canine massotherapy,
How to apply this knowledge and monitoring techniques
Methods of monitoring heart rate,pulse, breathing rate, cortisol levels, biofeedback MRIs and the pros and cons of these techniques.
Resources: An extensive list of videos, links, references, articles, websites, diagrams, etc. will be provided.
A question and answer session will follow this dogs and animal welfare webinar that will be moderated by Dr. Cheryl Aguiar