Pet Therapy, Dogs Helping Kids

by Mary Haight on June 7, 2011

Pet therapy uses play to help children who have trust, impulse control and other epet therapymotional or behaviorial issues find ways to access coping and problem-solving skills through play with animals. Dr. Rise Van Fleet, a child and family psychologist and certified dog behavior consultant, says dogs have many of the same behavior problems people do. 

Kids often find  it hard to talk to grown-ups and dogs are wonderful intermediaries. In her pet play therapy work, Dr. Van Fleet uses what dogs do as a  metaphor to  help children learn concepts by association, recognizing mistakes in behavior similar to their own and much more.  Learning to train dogs to perform some simple commands is a part of pet therapy that helps children develop a sense of competence, building confidence. This information-packed interview with Van Fleet by Eric Goebelbecker is available at Animal Cafe.

Pet therapy through play and learning new skills can be applied to a broad range of problems that present in children, and some great examples are given in this interview, like using desensitization to lessen fear of the dark, and working with shelter dogs to help children talk about being adopted.

Working on a credentialing process for dogs, Van Fleet is trying to do something different than the Delta Society and others are doing.  Rather than having dogs come in that are perfectly mannered, dogs that are imperfect are more suited to pet therapy so there is some training  problem the kids can work with. 

Dr. Van Fleet points out that there are many parallels between the way we raise children and how we train dogs. Putting too much emphasis on behavior and not enough on the emotional life, where behavior problems start, does not resolve issues. Pet therapy through play changes this outcome. The doctor shares her experience: Letting go of ideas of controlling everything and allowing kids and dogs to problem-solve on their own helps them find their talents and self-confidence.  She adds that it takes raising children and training dogs to another level.  It was an excellent discussion.

Pet therapy through play and active learning will be the topic in the Chat Cafe on Wednesday, June 8 at 9pm Eastern.  Van Fleet has 35 years experience, has trained thousands, and is the recipient of two prestigious national awards. Come and share your own experiences with your kids, two-or-four-legged, and find out more about pet therapy at Animal Cafe!

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