Gareth D Morewood

Great ideas and activities for summer: dog training

I have always tried to find creative ways to support and stimulate inclusion at school. Some of my ideas are considered more ‘creative’ than others; however the benefits of such unique events provide a lasting memory for young people. Here is the first of my most recent top three!

The dog training course

We had a group of eight young people with a parent/carer and their dog complete a basic dog obedience and healthcare course. The course included disciplines such as:

  • walking to heel,
  • sit and down stay
  • checking and grooming
  • a healthcare talk from a veterinary surgeon
  • recalls off lead and finally some basic agility.

[vimeo 93121773 w=500 h=281]

Outcomes

All participants not only demonstrated an increased interest and enthusiasm in the dogs and the subject, but also developed better listening skills and abilities to communicate with others. The dogs themselves at the end of the course also showed better concentration, social skills and improved obedience; which of course is credit to the students and parents/carers practising.

Therapeutic aspect

Whilst delivering the eight sessions we were supported by a psychologist and psychotherapist. Their reflections on the therapeutic aspect of the Dog Training and Animal Assisted Psychotherapy programme were enlightening.

This programme has incorporated the use of dog training techniques, Pet Care Information, canine interaction and experiential therapy with a small group of children selected from the nurture group and selected other individuals. The children have experienced interactive emotional control and have learned (through the immediacy of experience) how their emotional states and behaviour affect the presentation of the dog. Some children have changed dog partners because the impact of their behaviour/emotional state did not match the particular animal.

The children have learned how to direct the dog and to take control of their situations through assertiveness and self focus. Initially, all of the children were being led by the dogs and felt unable to control the situation; over the space of 5 weeks, the children had all made remarkable progress in assertive leadership of their animal partner. The increase in confidence in the children and their canine partners was tangible.

The children have experienced reciprocal bonding and affection with their dog partner through handling, grooming, health care and fun.

Most importantly, the children have experienced boundaries in their own behaviour and applied boundaries to their dog's behaviour in order to achieve shared aims, goals and achievements. Some children had the benefit of parent involvement and other children engaged with me as an emotional anchor within the process. Additional intervention from school staff was not necessary within this process.

This has been a profound experience as a psychotherapist and animal assisted psychotherapist; I have enjoyed the interagency approach of working with the school, the dog trainer and educational psychologist.

Jack’s experience

Jack, one of our students on the autistic spectrum in Year 7 thoroughly enjoyed the sessions, as did his mum! Jack enjoyed getting to know the other dogs, and then the next day telling his form tutor and peers all about it – the interest from other students in Jack’s animated stories about the sessions was even more powerful, as verbal interaction and reciprocal communication had been virtually non-existent previously.

Replicate for transition

Many may consider this a real luxury. However, the outcomes directly related to the sessions for individual students, their dogs and the parents/carers have been immense! We intend to replicate these sessions as part of transition events for Year 6 students – to provide a really unique start to their time at secondary school.

The training was delivered and supported by:

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