Dog and child – therapeutic benefits
Many people attribute therapeutic properties to dogs, but are they right? Can a dog actually be a therapist for a child? Should children grow up with dogs? Are there any breeds that are perfect for living with children? What is dog therapy and what does it involve? Does a dog have therapeutic benefits? You can read about all this in today’s article!
Dog therapy, i.e. classes involving dogs, during which the dog is the main motivator for patients to work. The dog must have appropriate predispositions and be trained in this field of work. Let’s not forget that dog therapy is not a method of treatment, but an activity supporting other therapies. Therefore, it is wrong to assume that a dog will improve the child’s physical or mental deficits; the help of an experienced therapist/physiologist/psychologist is always needed. The therapist is invariably a human, not a dog. Animals can only help support various types of therapies. Of course, there are benefits from dog therapy, but only thanks to specific assumptions and guidance of the therapist.
Contact with a dog and therapy with dogs
Here it is necessary to distinguish between two areas. Dog-assisted therapy is different than contact with a dog. First of all, in dog therapy there is a therapeutic goal that we strive for, where simple contact with a dog is only aimed at improving well-being. Therapy dogs must have specific character traits and be properly prepared to work in this area, and the handler must have appropriate education and knowledge. Such a therapeutic team can appropriately support and support patients’ therapy. Contact with a dog alone may reduce stress and release happiness hormones (oxytocin is released when the dog’s fur is stroked), but it will not cure diseases or reduce developmental deficits. Dog therapy and contact between a child and a dog is a very important aspect that supports, but does not cure, as the word gives a misleading impression. “dogoterapia”. Many parents looking for help with children with mental or physical disabilities are thinking about bringing a dog into their home.
However, often without thinking about the dog’s well-being. A dog and a child are a difficult combination in the home, and it is especially important to ensure that both parties respect each other’s boundaries. The dog should be able to rest and isolate itself from the child. Even the dog with the best predisposition to children will need some quiet time. This aspect is often forgotten. As a result, the dog is excessively stroked, cuddled and overstimulated. You should also bear in mind that not every dog will accept children and will be suitable for a family with small household members. Here, the breeder should select a puppy from the litter that gets along well with people and has a strong psyche so that the child-dog relationship functions well. Of course, there are benefits for the child from living with a dog, but the dog must also be comfortable with the child.
Dog therapy for children
Dog therapy classes for children should be conducted by a person who has completed a course in this field and has experience in working with both dogs and children. Many facilities allow incompetent people to conduct classes with dogs. As a result, during classes, children carelessly pet dogs, hug them, and severely violate the animal’s space.
And what are the benefits of dog-assisted therapy? In that case, none. First of all, in order to teach children proper contact with a dog and its messages, classes should be carried out in accordance with the dog’s well-being. Each child in turn can greet the dog and learn proper contact, e.g. where to pet the dog and how. When a child has the opportunity to calmly get to know a dog, he or she learns its signals, is less afraid of it and develops a relationship with a dog. Such activities are safe because both the dog and the child feel comfortable.
Dog therapy classes should include various elements, not only petting the dog. A dog is an excellent motivator for children, the use of balls, olfactory toys and dog tricks have a great impact on the child’s development (fine and gross motor skills, coordination, reflexes, observation and many others). Also, if classes are conducted in a calm manner and maintain space, children also learn to communicate with their peers during exercises. Their social and cognitive functions are developing. In the chaos, where all children “pet the dog” at the same time, they only learn how to push, be the first to the dog and compete. Is this what we want to teach our children?
Let’s check the people we invite to classes. Dog therapy classes can be very developmental and pleasant for both parties, if certain standards of conducting classes are maintained. Therapy with animals and children can bring a lot of smiles, joy and learning, but remember that therapeutic animals must also be properly selected for such work. Before starting work, the dog should be of the appropriate age (at least 2 years old), have undergone predisposition tests and complete a course preparing to work as a dog therapist.
Of course, growing up with a dog has advantages and affects the child’s development. However, for the dog’s influence on the child to be beneficial, both parties must get along and feel good in each other’s company. And this task must be supervised by the parent. We should never leave a child alone with a dog, even if it is gentle and docile. A child accompanied by a dog should be under the parent’s supervision. In any animal, the limit can be crossed and the dog will simply defend itself. If a child’s contact with a dog is based on positive associations from the very beginning, their relationship will be constructive and supportive of development. There are many benefits of having a dog, but also responsibilities. Raising a child together with a dog teaches him empathy, gentleness, a certain routine, self-regulation, and physical activity. Taking care of a dog also teaches you responsibility. A dog influences a child’s development, provided that the child is interested and likes contact with animals. A dog reads children’s emotions and can be a great friend who does not judge but only listens. Many children and teenagers like to interact with dogs because they do not judge, criticize or compare. However, if a child really needs such a relationship and the dog does not feel comfortable in this situation, it may also be a disappointment for the child, so it is important to develop a good relationship between both parties so that they like spending time together. Therapy and emotional support dogs can be great listeners and help regulate tension and stress.
Of course, there are also other benefits for the child’s development, e.g. Stroking itself is stimulating because it reduces stress and lowers our tension. But let’s not forget that dogs for disabled people can only improve their mood and well-being, and motivate them to be physically active, but they will not cure the disease. If your child really wants to have a pet, check whether he or she is ready for such a responsibility, as is the rest of the family. An adult will be responsible for raising the puppy. Let’s not forget that children have different cognitive functions than adults and some situations may be beyond them. It is the parent who should prepare the dog for walks with the child, teach how to interact with the animal and how to work with it. Choosing a dog for your child should also take into account how big the dog will be or how energetic it will be. It is also important that the presence of the animal does not cause anxiety in the child.
Raising a child at home with a dog
There is no denying it – a dog is a very big responsibility and you really need a lot of time to raise an animal well. Before getting a dog, it is also worth reading and considering what breed or type of breed will best fit the family model. The child also needs to be prepared for a pet, it is worth checking how the child reacts to dogs, e.g. from friends. Also in terms of allergies, which occur quite often. Before introducing the dog to a new family, it is important to designate its resting place and a zone where no one will disturb it. It is worth considering introducing a kennel cage, which is an indicator of a dog house. This is also a very good sign for children – when the dog is in the “house” it is not disturbed.
An important issue when raising a child with a dog is following the rules. When your dog is eating and drinking, do not put your fingers into the bowl. You need to explain to your child how and where you can pet the animal if you want contact. These seem like trivial things, but they actually help us stay safe. Most dog bites to children result from the dog crossing the line. Here, the parent should be educated and understand what signals the dog is sending. If your pet constantly licks its nose, yawns, or stiffens when the child pets it or hugs it tightly, it should stop the interaction. Because the dog asks for more distance, it feels uncomfortable, if no one responds, the dog switches to stronger messages and may, for example, start growling. Having a dog at home with children can be cool and pleasant, but only if we understand the animal. We should never punish a dog for messages such as growling, because as a result it may not signal it later.
If you want to know what your dog communicates and how he feels around a child, we encourage you to read our book “Dog Decoder”. You will learn 20 dog signals that are extremely important in the communication of our pets.
And if you are expecting a baby and want to prepare your dog for it, take a course “Baby on the way” will be a hit!
The best dog breed for a child
How to choose a dog? Is there a breed that will be perfect with children? Well, no. Even a Labrador or Golden Retriever can behave aggressively towards children. Any dog may be afraid or not accepting of children. The character, not the breed, will determine whether a dog will do well in a home with children. Of course, there are dog breeds where a certain type of behavior (resulting from the hunting chain) can be expected with high probability. However, a puppy’s belonging to a specific breed does not guarantee the occurrence of specific features, but only increases the likelihood of their occurrence. When adopting a dog, it is worth seeing what type of dog it is to know what behavior to expect from it. Unfortunately, many shelter or adopted dogs have a past that is not fully known, so it is not always known what they have experienced in their lives, what traumas they have had, and the predictability of their behavior is less certain. So before adoption, it is worth checking how the dog gets along with children and what his attitude is towards them. Many mutts make wonderful companions for children.
Is a dog or a female dog better for a child?
It doesn’t really matter. Both dogs and bitches, as long as they have the right character, will be good with children. Here it is worth asking the breeder for help or conducting an appropriate interview when adopting. Puppy or adult dog? Here, too, the question is often asked which option is better. More often than not, puppies find it easier to accept children, but this is not an indicator. It is best to check what your children’s attitude towards animals is before adopting a canine friend. Sometimes you just have to find “that dog”. See if you have more in common with a dog or maybe with a cat or another animal. Other animals will also be great for living with children.
Of course, dogs are wonderful playmates for children, but let’s not forget that a dog must also like contact with a child. Only then does such a child-dog relationship bring development benefits. You need to take care of the needs of both the child and the dog. If not everyone can afford to have a pet at home, you can safely attend classes with a therapy dog, which will teach and show your child how to live with a dog. Dog therapy should be conducted by reliable people with appropriate education and training to educate children and demonstrate good standards of working with dogs.