It may look odd – a dog kitted out in an overall having his paws painted by a ten-year old girl, but it’s just one of many activities a child can enjoy during a session of Dog-Assisted Therapy.
Tahnee Neesham has Asperger’s. She’s just finishing six sessions of Dog-Assisted Therapy (link opens in new window) through our sister organisation, Kites Children’s Therapy. Her mum Jo is amazed at the progress she’s made.
“Tahnee is socially awkward especially at school and this type of therapy may help to regulate her emotions,” she explains.
“During these sessions, she is in her element, she is mesmerised by the dog.”
What is Dog-Assisted Therapy?
Black Labrador Bazza, is specially trained to be a therapy dog. Children with autism, Asperger’s and other conditions can pat, brush, play games and talk to him, and through this interaction and communication can reach specific therapy goals.
“Tahnee really enjoys the tricks and games she can play with Bazza. This might be selecting cards to express her own feelings. She encourages the dog to place his paw on the card she chooses.”
“On top of Bazza’s paw, Tahnee places a doggy treat and he bends down to eat it. You can see how much she enjoys this.”
She is quiet in the classroom and won’t speak up for herself, but at home she explodes. We get the brunt of her worst behaviour.Jo Neesham
How can Dog-Assisted Therapy help?
Therapy dogs can reduce stress, improve attachment and bonding connections. It’s a two-way process, as the dog also benefits from the attention and nurture.
Therapist Brianna Pemberton says depending on the child’s level of autism, Bazza can help build social skills, as well as improving a child’s ability to pick up on social cues.
“By encouraging Tahnee to do tricks with Bazza, she’s becoming more assertive, finding her voice and improving eye contact and self-control,” she explains.
“She definitely enjoys these sessions. We have a dog at home and Tahnee will come back and try to recreate the tricks at home with him,” adds mum Jo.
Dog-Assisted Therapy is not restrictive and that’s the beauty of this therapy, which is the only one of its kind in WA. Therapist Brianna can work with an individual child, one-on-one to achieve milestones benefitting them at an individual level.
Tahnee and Bazza – a special relationship
The bond between Bazza and each child can be extraordinary. Watching Tahnee lovingly create a picture of her own hand print, alongside Bazza’s, you can see she is enjoying the moment and completely focused on the task.
I am going to put this picture in my bedroom because I love Bazza and he loves me. His ears are soft and I stroke them.Tahnee Neesham
She has even written a poem about Bazza. He has obviously left a lasting impression on her, as he has with many others.
Their interaction has brought about many positive benefits. Not only has Bazza created enjoyable memories, he’s also provided a sense of calm for Tahnee.
Dog Assisted Therapy is available through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and via limited state-funded government therapy places.
This one of a kind, innovative service is open to children through our centre in Victoria Park.
Please contact us if you are interested in finding out more information.