Therapy dogs to improve relationships between minors and their families

Carlota Fominaya

MADRID

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The simple fact that the animal is in the room makes families feel safe and secure and, most importantly, that they do not feel judged. As Maribel Vila, head of therapies at the Affinity Foundation, explains, “animals create a safe environment, they make the emotionally charged child or adolescent calm down. Sometimes the dog enters the room and it is like a catharsis. How many times do minors explain things to us while stroking the dog …! It is a way of feeling protected.

Improving the parent-child relations of minors in care and their families is the objective of the therapy program assisted by pets of the Affinity Foundation and the Generalitat de Catalunya, through the DGAIA (Directorate General for Attention to Children and Adolescents) . Currently 12 adults and 10 children between 6 and 16 years old are participating in this educational proposal or parenting skills workshop, who reside at the CRAE Llar Les Vinyes, located in Cerdanyola del Vallés (Barcelona). The children who live in this Residential Center for Educational Action are protected by the Generalitat due to a situation of family distress due to various circumstances.

The objective of this program, says Vila, who began as a dog trainer seventeen years ago, “It is to improve the bond between minors and their families, as well as the educational skills of parents or relatives, always attending to their needs and concerns and always from their abilities and strengths”. In this way, he continues, “it is achieved that minors can spend more quality time with their families and that in the event that guardianship is recovered, there will be a better family coexistence.”

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How to work with animals

From the interaction with the therapy dogs, one works on the quality of the relationships, but how? «Through the dog we create different activities where the user must communicate and guide the animal, always using positive and collaborative methods. Animals act as a mirror of how parents and children communicate and it gives us the chance to really see how we are and redirect behaviors », explains Vila.

In other words, this expert from the Affinity Foundation clarifies, «If we work positively or not, how do we relate … Dogs, in this case, make it possible for minors and reference adults to speak in the third person about what they are doing good or bad. I put for example: if I ask the dog for something and it does not obey me, I can try it hard, or be persistent and raise my voice a little, or even physically press. Through how they relate to the animal, we can work on how family relationships are approached, whether through an order, or through dialogue ».

In this way, through positive training and the organization of various activities and dynamics, important aspects such as communication, sense of responsibility, habits, routines of daily life, school homework, decision-making, organization and personal care and third parties are worked on. «We work on how they organize themselves when they have children, if they plan to carry out activities when they have them with them, how they organize themselves, if they are planned … The dog is always a facilitator that helps us teach care, respect … . Many values ​​can be taught, “says Vila

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The benefits of working with therapy animals

The benefits of working with dogs, Vila recalls, are multiple: «From the physiological ones, such as relaxation and the reduction of blood pressure, to the cognitive ones, favoring all learning processes, attention and concentration; emotional, improving their verbal and non-verbal expression, empathy and involvement and, lastly, relational benefits, improving communication, the ability to listen to others and to work as a team, among others ».

The program has obtained excellent results, and supports the work of the Foundation in this area. The Researchers of the Chair have shown that the therapies assisted with companion animals collaborate to improve the physical, emotional and mental state of the minors, contributing to increase their self-esteem, their confidence and the expression of their feelings, by feeling more secure with the children. dogs.

“Several studies have already shown that animal-assisted therapies are effective as part of a treatment and that they are at the level of other therapies to treat emotional and behavioral aspects. But with a differential factor: without a doubt, the motivation to collaborate with the dog is greater “, says Vila. “For the Foundation it is very satisfactory to collaborate with the DGAIA to improve the quality of life of minors in care, and now also to help their families and improve their relationship,” explains Isabel Buil, director of the Affinity Foundation.

“We are very proud to be part of such a pioneering project, which is being very well received by the minors and their families. Family members who participate in the program are very involved in it, and the children are happy to be able to spend more quality time with them and participate in various activities with the dogs. We are seeing very significant and positive changes. This program is allowing us improve the relationship of minors with their families, a key point in order to regain their guardianship in the future“, Concludes Laura Pascual, social educator at the CRAE Llar Les Vinyes center.

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