Hi, my name is Joey and this is my Dad! I think he could be your psychologist!
I am a labradoodle and I really enjoy being my Dad’s canine therapy assistant. Another thing I really enjoy is meeting people. I am friendly, I don’t shed hair, and I like it when people pat me gently or scratch my chest or under my chin.
No matter what you say to me, I think it’s great and I won’t tell anybody your secrets!
I also love to cuddle and lick people’s faces and hands. If you don’t like my licks, all you have to do is pull your hand or face away and I will stop. It might take me a while to learn what you don’t like, but I am quite smart.
Let’s learn together about therapy. I think it’s fun! Even more fun is playing with toys! So you might see me carrying toys into the therapy room. I hope you’ll play tug-toy with me!
I’m glad you’re thinking of coming over to my house! I can’t wait to meet you!
My dad has some important things to say now…
It is totally fine to receive therapy without a dog there to support your challenging emotions. But you may already know there are many benefits of therapy assisted by an animal. Dogs are among the most common animals working as therapy assistants.
Dogs have been utilized in therapy settings since Freud had dogs in his therapy room. One reason for this is that friendly dogs won’t judge you. If you are worried Dr. Dawson might judge you or you are worried he won’t understand you, you can say anything into Joey’s ear and he won’t mind a bit.
Joey won’t help much with mindfulness meditation, but he can be a soothing and funny distraction. What else sooths you?
Natural responses to contact with a friendly dog include:
⦁ Relaxation, smiling, laughter, and joy
⦁ Considering how to relate to another living being who doesn’t speak English
⦁ Distraction from focusing on you
⦁ An opportunity to focus on the feelings in your body
Dogs can also teach people to learn how to adapt to unexpected situations, like letting them outside or taking them for a walk when they really need to “go”!
Other healthy changes can come from working with a psychologist and a canine therapy assistant to treat a fear of dogs, a fear of people, and a fear of getting hurt.
Fear of Dogs
Visiting with a dog can also be an important part of a treatment plan to help humans overcome a fear of dogs known as dog-phobia (also called cynophobia).
Children and adults with dog-phobia avoid situations where they may encounter dogs. They might stay away from family and friends or stop going for walks outside. They may even stop leaving their home altogether. Isolation and depression can develop alongside increasing anxiety about the world, just because there are dogs in it. This can damage relationships and lead to problems holding down a job.
If your fear of dogs is disabling you in some way, meeting with a therapy dog could certainly be a treatment goal to change your response to dogs. It could even be the start of a new friendship! But we would not start by meeting a therapy dog right away.
Instead, therapy for dog-phobia includes learning to relax while gradually being exposed to features of dogs at a distance. For example, the following steps could be taken either virtually or in the therapy office without the dogs being present:
⦁ Hearing a dog bark from a distance.
⦁ Imagining seeing a dog.
⦁ Looking at pictures or videos of dogs.
⦁ Looking at or holding a toy dog.
⦁ Hearing a dog bark close by.
⦁ Talking with a puppet dog.
Once you have been able to complete these steps, a therapy dog could help with the rest of the treatment in-person
⦁ Watching dogs play from a distance and slowly getting closer to them.
⦁ Petting a friendly dog while it’s on a leash.
⦁ Spending time with a friendly dog off of a leash.
⦁ Walking with a friendly dog.
⦁ Walking with an anxious dog.
Fear of People
Were you ever told not to talk to strangers? Did someone hurt you? Have you ever been scared or uncomfortable with people? If so, these are frightening experiences that can create mistrust.
But Joey’s big brother Jaxi is scared that people might hurt him. You might be scared of people too.
Meet Joey’s big brother, Jaxi.
If Jaxi could talk, he would probably say something like this…
“I am afraid of humans because I was treated badly when I was a pup. You might not know that feeling scared of being badly treated can last for many years. I used to run in circles around people and bark at them. I wouldn’t get near them. I still keep my distance because I’m scared. I’m glad I have my dad Dr. Dawson and my human mom in my life because I really needed help. I am so thankful they taught me some ways to calm myself. They also give me medication everyday and that also helps a lot!
But I still avoid contact with people I haven’t met before. If you graduate from sessions with Joey, and you want to help me be more comfy with people, it can be part of your treatment to meet with me in person. If you have felt scared of people like I do, ask Dr. Dawson to learn more about meeting with me.”
The Mixed Bag of Life
While you are thinking about visiting Dr. Dawson and his dogs Joey and Jaxi, it might help to remember that life is a mixture of positive and challenging experiences. All dogs and people are mixtures of calm, friendly, excited, anxious, and difficult behaviours. We’ve already looked at the positives about some healing effects of being with dogs. Let’s learn more about some possible challenges of being near Joey and Jaxi and how to handle ourselves with them.
Meeting with the Dogs
We will always wait until you are feeling comfortable to meet with either Joey or Jaxi. We will start with Joey because he is really eager to meet new people.
If you decide you want to meet Joey, it's helpful to remember that when he meets people for the first time, he can get quite excited. He will probably want to stand or sit next to you or walk over to you. Why? I’m glad you asked! To give you a chance to pet him. It’s fine to pet him if you want to.
It will be the same with Jaxi once you get to know him. Jaxi just needs more time.
At some point, Joey might get so excited to see you that he will put his front paws up on your legs. If Joey does this, please ward him off and say "off". If this happens, Dr. Dawson will invite him over. If he licks your hands or face, a sanitizer and a washroom are available for your convenience.
When you come over to Joey and Jaxi’s house, be aware that they sometimes bark. But this doesn’t happen very often. When it does, it could mean at least three different things. If Joey and Jaxi bark, they could be excited to see you, they might want to go outside, or they might be trying to protect us. If they bark, Dr. Dawson will usually calm them by stroking their fur and gently telling them “shhh” and “that’s okay, good boy”. You might want to try this too! Dr. Dawson can support you when you try this.
If you decide you want to meet with Jaxi, you have probably not even met him yet. He has been hanging out upstairs with his human mom, waiting his turn while Joey works his magic! But Jaxi often wants to meet new people, especially when his brother Joey has already told him about you.
At first, Jaxi will be quite uncomfortable getting too close. Jaxi usually barks at people he hasn’t met yet, especially if you are in his territory. Because Joey is so friendly with people, it helps Jaxi to come downstairs to the therapy office with Joey. He sees how friendly Joey is and starts to imitate him.
In this way, you can provide an opportunity to Jaxi to overcome his fear of people. It could also be healing for you to help Jaxi feel more at ease and comfortable. Dr. Dawson will give Jaxi treats to make meeting you feel more rewarding and easier.
Just like you, the dogs might want to leave the therapy room. Of course, you are free to leave too, at any time. The therapy room door is usually kept open when Joey is part of the session. Joey’s “mom” (who is also Dr. Dawson’s partner) stays upstairs during sessions. She can’t hear what you say from up there.
Appointments with the Dogs
If you want an appointment with Joey or Jaxi, please let Dr. Dawson know to ensure they are available. It is entirely up to you whether you want dog(s) to be part of your therapy. It is also okay to have therapy without either Joey or Jaxi.