Ethical Considerations in Animal Assisted Therapy: Potential Potholes and the Road Ahead
Guest author: Kirby L. Wycoff, Psy.D., NCSP
From Reading Education Assistance Dogs, to Autism Support Dogs, and everything in between, we are seeing more and more animals serving humans in need. More recently, we have seen the likes of “Canine Support Dogs” or “Crisis Comfort Dogs” showing up in the aftermath of the school shootings, natural disasters and terrorist events. But even with such great need and human suffering, when animals are used in service of humans, the animal’s suitability and preparation for the work, as well as the handler’s ability to advocate for their AAI (Animal Assisted Intervention) partner, deserves our serious consideration."
Out of control!
Lacking self control!
These labels and many more are readily applied to so many dogs. Yet the handler often isn't even considered to be part of the dynamic that contributes to the dog's behavior.
Relationship Centered Training (RCT) always considers the relationship and how dog and human interact to create behavior. Not surprisingly, the human end of the leash sometimes contributes to unwanted behavior without intending to do so.
Even Though. . .
All of us can appreciate what might excite a dog, even to the point of tuning out his handler. It could be another dog, people approaching, food, toys, wildlife, a cat or squirrel, anticipation of a happy event like a walk or being in class. We understand that the world is full of many things our dogs may find far more interesting at times than a conversation with us.
If you're hanging on to your dog's body, it's because you've lost his mind!
Control is not always about connection, but connection is what makes control possible.
Connection is about two minds working together. If the connection is not there between you and your dog, you will be unable to direct him, help him or really train him.
Why are some dogs shy? fearful? nervous? aggressive? irritable? unfriendly? difficult to train? clingy? unable to be left alone?
People have many explanations for why dogs act as they do. Sometimes the dog's history becomes baggage that the human carts along for the dog's entire life. Recently, I asked someone about their dog's pulling on leash and she began her answer with, "He was found near a dumpster when he was six weeks old." The dog was 3 years old now. How does being found near a dumpster have much to do with pulling, which is an interaction between a dog and handler?
It is often heard and cheerfully given advice: "Keep him under threshold!" Yep. Can do. I think. Maybe. Um, how do I know?
While most of us recognize the dog who has been pushed past a threshold and into reaction, it is harder to know exactly where the sweet spot is, the place where learning and thinking occur, where choices are possible, and where behavior changes (good ones!) can happen.