Canine Therapy Is Helping Youth Overcome Pandemic Events

On the surface, the United States seems to be emerging from and countering from the throes of the pandemic. However many, especially youth still struggle to overcome the mental and emotional impact that resulted in light of 2020. Parents, educators, and health care providers found multiple methods to ease some of the challenges kids experienced. A popular method is canine therapy.

One canine therapy effort took place in the fall of 2020 at a school in New Jersey. The Hopewell Valley Regional School District  partnered with Air Therapy Dogs to help the students weather the pandemic. “All of our administrators who have dogs have volunteered to have their dogs trained to act as therapy dogs for our students,” says Hopewell Valley Regional School District Superintendent Thomas Smith. He added that prior to the introduction of the therapy dogs, the kids weren’t readily sharing their emotions and now they are comfortable talking about their feelings. The school district is using canine therapy for both virtual and in-person learning.

Canines at the camp

Tricia Baker, of A.I.R. Therapy Dogs adds that simply looking at a dog releases oxytocin, which is the relationship hormone. When students pet a dog, it’ll releases serotonin and dopamine — ultimately helping to lower their stress levels.

As youth slowly started going back to school in 2021, the Liberty Ohio district’s school counselors teamed up with Cadence Care Network and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board to have a social worker in the schools, and employ its therapy dog, Pawss. They are finding that Pawss brings a greater sense of routine and acts as a helpful buffer to the student’s worries about missing certain events or not seeing their friends as much.

More recently, a school offering the Covid-19 vaccination to teens has employed a therapy dog to help ease the anxieties of students as they wait to get their shot.

Therapy Dog vs. Emotional Support Dog vs. Pet Dog

Parents who are concerned about their child’s mental wellbeing may wonder if they need a therapy dog, an emotional support dog or an untrained, pet dog. It depends on your child’s circumstances.

  • Therapy dogs are specially trained to maintain a level of calm and provide affectionate support in a group setting – like hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation environments.
  • Emotional support dogs are not trained but do require a certification letter from a licensed therapist to meet the criteria. They are permitted in airplanes and no-pets housing. They typically serve on an individual basis.
  • There have been numerous studies showing that having a dog as a pet can provide unconditional, non-judgmental companionship, structure, responsibility, and routine to a youth’s life.

Depending on your child’s situation one or a few of the above solutions may be suitable.

Therapy dogs are not new however there is a greater need for them now than ever before. If you have questions about how New Vision Wilderness Therapy clinicians incorporate this kind of healing support for our clients, you can contact us here.