Prevention Concept’s k9 Program
Love, companionship, commitment, and trust are the foundational ingredients for strong interpersonal relationships; however, these relational recipes are not unique to human interactions. When we compare human-to-human and human-to-animal relationships, we find consistent characteristics and benefits, which is especially prevalent concerning the bond formed between humans and dogs. For many of us, our most pleasurable and most vivid childhood memories are connected to our family’s pet; indeed, these experiences and friendships have, in many respects, helped shape our lives. It is through these experiences and intuitions, backed by an abundance of research that provides the framework for the implementation of our k9 program; a program specifically, and uniquely, designed to combine the care, responsibility, and accomplishment associated with the rearing, raising, and training of canines, with peer-recovery (substance abuse & mental health) supports and concepts.
The Healing Power of k9s
In research and studies conducted by Phil Arkow (1993, 1998, 2002, 2015), a positive correlation was found between exposure to canines and other animals (e.g., raising, caring, training, etc.) and improved psychological and physiological well-being; several benefits were identified during Arkow’s research and have been supported by similar findings from other such studies (e.g., Nimer, J., & Lundahl, B. (2007). Animal-assisted therapy: A meta-analysis. Anthrozoös, 20(3), 225-238.; Wells, D. L. (2009); The effects of animals on human health and well‐being. Journal of Social Issues, 65(3), 523-543.; Barker, S. B., Pandurangi, A. K., & Best, A. M. (2003). Effects of animal-assisted therapy on patients’ anxiety, fear, and depression before ECT. The journal of ECT, 19(1), 38-44,).
Most notably, interactions with canines were reported to have an undeniable calming effect; people were instinctively drawn to the animals consoling nature; the act of stroking or petting the animals had an immediate soothing effect, which was shown to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and decrease stress levels (Arkow, 1998 & 2002), which are all factors—when left untreated— that have been identified as detrimental to recovery processes and one’s overall quality of life. Other aspects that have been acknowledged as damaging to the recovery process are isolation and loneliness. The interactions between humans and dogs have been shown to have an ameliorating effect on one’s perceptions of loneliness, and the physical proximity, along with training and exercise regiments, promote social interaction and integration, which, in turn, decreases physical and perceptual isolation. The trust, respect, and love that grows throughout these relationships between animals and trainers, are the foundations for building similar relationships among their peers, and ultimately gives participants the tools to form long-term relationships and a greater level of connectedness to community.
You do not have to consult research statistics to realize that our current, mental-health and substance-abuse interventions leave much to be desired; you only have to open your eyes and look around at the devastation that addiction and mental illness are doing to our communities and recognize that many, self-inflicted tragedies are a result of undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. Every day there is a heartbreak related to these phenomena, and only if there are sustained efforts by the people who live, work, and hold positions of influence within our communities to change the current, antiquated systems of care, and embrace innovative programs that promote holistic approaches to recovery, will we then begin to see success in our efforts to prevent and treat substance abuse and mental illness.
Some proven benefits of participant interaction with, and training of, canines:
- Teaches patience
- Promotes tolerance
- Helps build relationships
- Improves self-efficacy
- Provides an outlet for stress
- Practical job training
- Develops life skills/coping skills
- Nurtures empathic understanding
- Cultivates responsibility & accountability
Giving Back to those who Serve and Protect: Veterans
The use of animal-assisted therapy has been around for many years, but what makes our program unique is not only do participants receive all the therapeutic benefits associated with the rearing, raising, and training of our service k9s, they will also work side-by-side with our trainers, recovery coaches, therapist, and veterans; these interactions will facilitate both opportunities to rebuild lives, and to give back. Participation into our k9 program will include anyone seeking trauma-related support, substance abuse recovery support, or simply any individuals who want to become productive members of society. After the training is complete, the dogs will be donated to Veterans who would otherwise not have these much-needed and much-deserved resources.
Recently, there has been concerted efforts to explore alternative and/or adjunct therapies related to trauma- and stressor-related disorders. Throughout this process, animal-assisted therapy has continuously emerged as a viable complement to traditional, treatment approaches.
|Benefits of Canine-Assisted, Post-Trauma Therapy|
|Trauma-Related Symptoms||Supportive Behaviors|
|Reclusiveness||Canine accompanies veteran outside the home|
|Night terrors||Canine wakes veteran|
|Startle reaction||Canine helps define personal space perimeter|
|Forgetfulness||Canine reminds veteran to take medication|
|Dissociative fugue||“Take me home” command|
|Hypervigilance||Canine searches room for perceived danger|
|Neurochemical imbalance||Team walks to stimulate endorphin pr0oduction|
|Sensory overload||Canine provides alternate focus|
|Emotional regulation||Canine provides therapeutic distraction|
|Social withdrawal||Canine-facilitated interpersonal interaction|
|Source: Love, C., & Esnayra, J. (2009). The use of psychiatric service dogs in the treatment of Veterans with PTSD. WESTAT INC ROCKVILLE MD.|
- Wood, S. (2016). Anyone’s best friend: A qualitative exploration of the positive influences of animal assisted therapy on mental health and well-being
- Fine, A. H. (2002). Animal-assisted therapy. Encyclopedia of psychotherapy, 49-55
- Morrison, M. L. (2007). Health benefits of animal-assisted interventions. Complementary health practice review, 12(1), 51-62
- Stern, S. L., Donahue, D. A., Allison, S.., Hatch, J. P., Lancaster, C. L., Benson, T. A., … & Peterson, A. L. (2013)