Therapists in pediatric care settings use therapy dogs for observing and monitoring the child’s behaviour with the dog and their tone of voice when interacting with the dog. From this and from asking the child about his or her experience with the dog, therapist gain very good insight into the therapeutic needs of the child. Before dog-assisted therapy can be applied effectively, the child needs to build a bond with the dog.
Dogs can be used very effectively to distract the child from an unpleasant treatment or from pain. They can bring entertainment, pleasure and happiness to a pediatric care setting. They improve children’s moods and encourage positive behaviours. Therapy dogs in pediatric care encourage play and active movement. They help pediatric patients to gain a sense of trust and control, which helps them significantly to participate in therapeutic interventions.
In pediatric care specially trained therapy dogs are used in occupational therapy sessions, physical therapy and in child mental health therapies. Dog-assisted therapies are especially helpful for children with disabilities, childhood trauma, emotional-behavioural disorder (EBD), and attention-deficit disorder (ADHD).
Through incorporating therapy dogs into treatment plans, pediatric therapists support children to work on assertiveness and boundaries, learn about body-language, improve their social skills, learn about quiet and calm and to be able to be still in their body. Children with attachment disorders find it much easier to relate to a dog than to a person, and their bond with a dog can act as a bridge to building positive relationships with human beings. Dogs have even been used to reach children in a coma and have been able to elicit responses, when humans couldn’t.