It made our day when one of our lovely customers got in touch with a picture of her pup using our hands-free leads to help with his work as a therapy dog. We were very impressed to see our Hands-Free Lead go to such good use and wanted to learn more about what therapy animals do. Judith answers our questions below and shares her tips for getting your dog trained as a therapy animal.
How long have you had Caspian for and how did the two of you meet?
I had his mum she was rescued from a puppy farm. He was one of 6 pups and they were all named after characters from the Chronicles of Narnia - he’s Prince Caspian because he was daring and adventurous (and if you’ve seen the film very good looking!!)
What inspired you to get Caspian trained as a therapy dog and what was the process for this?
I noticed that when we were around adults with learning disabilities or young children both my horse and dogs behaved differently - they seemed to have a different relationship to these people than they did with me. The animals seemed to give each person they met just what they needed - a hug/cuddle or they somehow just knew to spend more time being with them. It was amazing to see and so from that, my journey studying 'Animal Assisted Interventions' began.
Animals live in the present and so do small children and a lot of people with learning difficulties, so they savour each interaction whereas the rest of us are usually preoccupied with work or home life.That’s why I believe it’s so important that we take time out each day to just be in the moment with our animals and meet them there. We can learn so much from our pets and I wanted to share this experience with others so I set up InCahoots Animal Assisted Activities and I also approached voluntary organisations such as PAT (pets as therapy) to get some experience and support. Caspian and his mum were both assessed as therapy dogs - follow the PAT assessment criteria.
How often does Caspian work as a therapy dog?
He works a couple of times a week but the majority of his work is play which is really important for making a connection with people and building trust. Rest is important too as it is tiring work for the animal and they always need a safe place to rest up. My role is to facilitate the interaction - he knows what people need.
How has our Hands-free lead helped with Caspian's therapy work?
People in wheelchairs want to hold the lead and feel they are walking the dog but traditional leads are too short and I’m not comfortable with clients holding their arms out to avoid the wheels. Hiro + Wolf's Hands-Free Lead enables me to hook it over the back of the chair while allowing them to still hold onto the lead. It also gives Caspian greater freedom to move away from the wheel.
We love the pictures you sent us, can you tell us a little about the lady in the wheelchair with Caspian ?
She is a lady who adores animals and lives in a supported living community. Being with Caspian means she gets out into the fresh air and gets to see her beautiful surroundings. The best thing about working with animals are the health benefits physical, mental and emotional with increased levels of oxytocin (needed for care and attachment), serotonin (lifts our mood) and dopamine (linked to our reward system). Being in nature just lifts our mood and makes us happy - it's a wonderful combination!
It must be a really rewarding job, do you have a favourite moment?
So many... seeing the joy on people’s faces when they connect with a dog is amazing and each interaction is different. A favourite moment on a residential holiday was when a client who had a Learning Difficulty and Dementia was homesick and Caspian made all the difference to the holiday being a success - without Caspian offering warmth, care and affection (and a distraction ) we would’ve had to go home early. When it came to making a photo album of the holiday I noticed that every photo I had taken prior to the client feeling homesick had Caspian at his side or feet either on the floor or on the sofa - the dog had sensed his emotional state long before I was aware of his home sickness - incredible.
How can people find more information about therapy dog training and services?
PAT - Pets as Therapy offer guidance and advice on how to get your dog (or cat) assessed for working as a therapy pet https://petsastherapy.org/ PAT is a voluntary organisation and Casper and I work with them as volunteers. You can also learn more about my animal assistance work by following our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/incahootstlc.co.uk/