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."
I admire excellence in any field, whether the excellence is shown in amazing cakes or handpainted silk jackets, in being able to fix almost anything mechanical (thank you, dear husband, for possessing that particular excellence!), in creating music that sings in my heart long after the final notes have faded from my ears. I have been privileged to watch many trainers who could create an agreement between themselves and a dog that was rich with nuance and harmony.
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?
One trainer wrote: “A dog who puts its feet on you, a dog who seems to like pinning you down in your chair with its head on your lap is not being affectionate but rather treating you like a member of the pack that can be pushed, stepped on, and held down. Dr. Karen Overall warns that such signs should be read for what they are. Dominance aggression in an overt form should come as no sudden surprise if this kind of behavior has been observed in the past."
When I was a young trainer, there were no veterinary behaviorists. There were no pyschotherapeutic medications. There were tranquilizers and sedatives, sure. Acepromazine was often the drug of choice. But sophisticated medications meant to address serotonin or dopamine imbalances? anxiolytics to get a dog through the Fourth of July fireworks display? Nope.