Pooch Power: The Healing of Four Paws

By James Feinberg, Child Clinical Psychologist

Ask any pet owner, young or old, about their dog and a large smile will come across their face, their mood will brighten, and they will offer to show you various photos of their dear ones on their smart phone. Those of us who live with dogs and other mammals know and have always known that their presence enriches our lives in a multitude of ways. Therefore, it is no surprise that medical and psychological research has scientifically confirmed that these divine creatures reduce our stress and blood pressure levels as well as contribute to us living longer lives.

Pet or animal assisted therapy as it’s now known takes pet ownership a powerful step further by melding trained animals with skilled mental health practitioners. This approach can take many forms depending upon the target population and the presenting problems. For example, with Autistic, Asperger’s, Spectrum, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder children and teens, the primary focus is upon the quality of their connection with my therapy dog, Dude, a 10 year old German Shepherd, and with my therapy dog in training, Grace, a 5.5 month old German Shepherd. With ADHD boys, the typical focus is upon appropriate social interactions and related impulse control, observation, and then action on behalf of these kids with my canine assistants. Whereas, with depressed and anxious boys, the focal point is teaching these boys how to self-soothe by having them pet, scratch, and groom my 4 legged friends while noting the effects on their (i.e. kids’/teens’) emotional state.

How all of this happens is not as simple nor as straightforward as it sounds. First, a comprehensive evaluation is essential to accurately assessing problems. Second, effective treatment requires knowing when, where, and how to intervene. Third, therapy dogs and psychologists, who have spent countless hours and years training together, do their magic by providing a non-judgmental, nurturing, and healing environment as well as a tailored treatment approach for each individual child and teen. With ample opportunities for kids to get it right, and without fear of ridicule or rejection as is often the case with peers who expect a certain standard of behavior, these kids often overcome their problems and blossom over time.

For further assistance, please contact Dr. James Feinberg, Child Clinical Psychologist, Dude, and Grace at 314-966-0880. Their office is at 10900 Manchester Road, Suite 201, Kirkwood, Missouri 63122.