Therapy dogs

Marijke Goossens, psychotherapist and owner of El Camino Del Alano

The Alano Espagñol as a therapy dog

I have been working as an independent psychotherapist for 15 years. This also means that I continue my life-long studies and continue to study in adjacent domains in order to be able to help my clients even better than just conversational therapy. I have also followed therapeutic massage courses and a diploma as a walking coach. I quickly noticed looking at my Alano’s that they are able to sense the state of mind of people very quickly and precisely. That is why I also work with them as a therapy dogs, to date with great success.

Why is the Alano Espagñol   suitable as a therapy dog?

Dogs are nowadays the most used of all therapy animals. Alanos are very suitable for therapy for the following reasons:

  • An Alano is a social animal (pack animal) and can adapt well to any situation.
  • An Alano is careful in making contacts, he adopts a wait-and-see attitude.
  • An Alano has a clear body language through which he can communicate well with people.
  • An Alano undertakes activities with people, is cuddly and instigates interaction.
  • A dog makes no demands about openness or showing emotions. He does not judge; it does not matter who or what you are. You can therefore tell him any story or problem while the therapist keeps listening in the background.
  • One technique that I frequently use is that the Alano immediately reflects the behavior and mood of the client. As a result, new behavior can be practiced in a playful and non-confrontational manner. For example, if the commands are pronounced too hesitantly, the dog will not follow them. If the client is firm and convinced, the dog will execute the command. If the client is very sad, my dogs adopt a comforting and cuddly attitude.
  • The dog can also be used as a social catalyst. After all, it is easier to make contact with other people when a dog is sitting next to you.

In my practice I regularly turn to my Alano’s, for example people who have difficulty with making contacts and showing emotions. With autistic children we have achieved great results together! Animals, especially Alano’s, are particularly suitable as a ‘therapeutic medium’. They often feel things faster than people. The Alano Espagñol can adapt well to every situation and it does not judge and does not make any demands. I think that we – as a person – can learn something from these animals!

The Alano Espagñol as pet and family dog

In addition, I became aware of the healing and positive effect of pets on human beings. I visited a number of old people’s homes with Salomon and it was wonderful to experience the reactions of the people when seeing the dog and the interaction between humans and animals! The fact that pets (mainly cats, dogs, horses, …) ensure that people feel better mentally and physically has been supported by the necessary scientific research. Since 1977, the Delta Society gathers in the US experience on the therapeutic qualities of animals. This association was one of the founders of animal support therapy.

In Germany, too, the positive effects of therapy dogs have been studied and translated into reality (Universität Bonn, Erlangen, Epilepsy- Zentrum Bethel). In the Netherlands, the KNGF Guide Dogs – in collaboration with the VUmc Alzheimer Center, the Department of Psychiatry of VUmc , and the Open University in Heerlen – have started a study looking into the use of dementia dogs for young people (40-65 years) with dementia. The first dementia dogs have been used this year for people with (early) dementia.

The results

Mentally dogs ensure:

  • reducuction in loneliness
  • reduction of depression
  • reducuction in attention to own ailments
  • an opener for contact with others
  • a sense of security

Physically dogs provide:

  • more movement
  • more relaxation, which helps to prevent stress
  • drop in blood pressure
  • stress reduction
  • regulation of heart rate
  • increase in endorphin content
  • higher survival rate in patients after a heart attack
  • improvement in mental performance (with the elderly) and learning performance (with children)
  • reduction of asthma and allergies (however strange this may sound)
  • promotes rehabilitation

In the society, dogs ensure:

  • significantly less medication use
  • reduced visit to the general practitioner, which reduces the costs of health care
  • less school absenteeism
  • promoting social interaction

Practical application?

I would almost say, what are they not suitable for? We know the examples of the guide dog, the dogs that are used to find people after a natural disaster, the assistance dog, the pets in schools and in hospital care, but also in companies, for example. In some companies it is even allowed to bring a dog.

I am convinced that the Alano Espagñol will find a new purpose and tasks once again!