The Realities of Animal Assisted Interventions with Dogs in Ukraine: Dog is an Instrument and the Child is an experiment?


Lviv, 2018

© Oleksandra Beregovenko
The School of Social Cynology “ Harmonic Dog ”



It is a known that Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) with dogs is very common in countries with high social development. The programs of training of therapy dogs have serious state and charitable support, because the complexity and responsibility in this activity are very high.


Today, Ukraine is making the first steps in the formation of social programs in this direction. The process is just emerging and it is great that European charity organizations and contemporary governmental programs provide a financial opportunity for Ukraine to make a new powerful element of development in our society.


But because the topic is new to us and yet poorly understood - low competence and corruption abuse are easily passed unnoticed in our society. And it is very unfortunate to use such chances for the "visibility of stormy activity". One the one hand, the result of the work is simply minimal, but on the other hand, it can be worse, if mistakes and unprofessionalism set society against!


In order to make at least a little outline of the importance of the topic and the professional complexity of AAI, we want to touch upon some of the nuances and explain the situation:

AAI with dogs – is one of the types of service cynology, the most interesting and very effective method of influencing behavior and the psyche of a human individual.


The best results of various types of AAI can be seen in working with children, which are especially sensitive to the interaction with dogs, because their interconnection is not limited to acquired age-related blocks, and is formed on the pure depth levels of nature. Thus, the less is the age of an individual, the more strongly the body language and gestures are read.


Why are dogs the most common human partners in animal-assisted interventions?


The answer is that dogs are highly social animals, and their desire to create families, but not packs, even twice as strong as that of humans. This determines their plasticity, non-conflict character and attempts to form ideal family relationships based on trust to the Leader, and not on the basis of fear of a dominant individual. This feature of dogs is the key to success, especially in the hardest cases. But, at the same time, it becomes the greatest complexity, requiring a great deal of knowledge of psychophysiology, professionalism and practice from the therapy dog handler.


What is special about the therapy dog? How is the selection system formed? Training and work? How therapy dogs differ from ordinary pets, which also have a substantial positive impact on us?


I will start with the most important, and at the same time, I will explain the "poles" and the fundamental differences between "dog - a simple pet" and "therapy dog".


There are two notions, which I would like to distinguish: adaptation and socialization. These are VERY different things and are formed in different ways. While adaptation is something that nature would choose for its purposes, socialization is the deliberate formation of a dog's behavior under conditions of modern urban life. In other words, adaptation rarely covers the needs of what is best for us.

The third vector of raising a dog is training through the execution of commands, without the possibility for a dog to follow its own choice. This type of education has its consequences in the future behavior of the animal and forms it more like an instrument in the hands of a human, and not a social partner, which helps to correct the processes.


Adapted animals live in the human society as inserted elements, but not as part of the whole.

Each path (adaptation, socialization, training) has its basis of formation and forecasts for the consequences. Of course, there is no "pure" choice in real life, and a living creature will have its own final model of behavioral responses – this is the way a personality is formed. But the percentage ratio of "adaptation-socialization-training" plays an important role, forming sometimes opposite responses and behavior.


Dogs have many benefits to work as therapists. Their high level of chemo-communication (reading and analyzing smells) opens up those opportunities that people are not capable to control. The dog smells wide horizons: hormonal "cocktails" - one of the most accurate physiological books. That is why it is not possible to deceive a dog: the things that the human eye cannot see or the ear cannot hear - a dog's nose "quickly puts everything accurately on information shelves".


In addition, in their nature, dogs are non-conflict and seek ways to minimize negative points in relationships. This is a great plus for us, humans, but a minus for the dogs themselves, because the chronic states of "subjugation" and "fading" are a great deal of stress and self-destruction for any organism.


What are the main roles and tasks in AAI with dogs?


AAI includes several types of tasks for an animal:


Level 1: A dog that by its appearance and behavior entertains people, causing positive emotions;


Level 2: A dog that replaces the child / person's lost family feeling, blocking the manifestations and effects of loneliness and stimulates (!) a relief from these states;(I draw your attention to the exclamation mark near the word "stimulates", because a non-social dog with phobias and fears, on the contrary, will deepen the owner's acquired or compelled detachment from social contacts) (Level 1 and 2 compose the body of Animal Assisted Activities);


Level 3: A dog, which serves as an auxiliary living "tool" in the arms of a dog handler, takes part in educational programs and in the development of the world vision of children; participates in the formation of communication, the development of skills in different directions; can play a leading role in simple behavioral adjustment programs through incentives and examples (known as Animal Assisted Education).


Level 4: A dog that tests behavior and reactions of children with special needs and people with mental disorders and mental peculiarities, both in a complex and under the direction of specialists, contributes to the future psychological reformatting (known as Animal Assisted Therapy).



All this work is related to AAI, but requires absolutely different levels of training and professionalism, both from the side of the person and the dog. This work requires a team of professionals and not an easy way to achieve the result.


To understand what really "you eat today", using good names and touching the most important strings of our hearts, I suggest clarifying the following:


How is the therapy dog selected?


1. A dog of the fourth level of AAI is born and raised in cynological (canine) centers. That is, not only the puppies from the first day, but also their mother is a trained selected participant of the set of therapeutic tasks for the future.


The cultivation of such a dog requires a huge level of understanding not only etiology, but also the psychophysiology of dogs and practices in dealing with human psychology.


During the first 18 months of life, the dog goes through many programs of socialization of different levels and testing (16 phases on 5 levels) and design (methods of teaching analytical thinking and rapid information exchange with a person).


After passing the final test, the dog receives the category and the final determination of the future range of work. Each dog will have its own "working card", in other words, the specific type of activity.


The probability that a dog, despite all the efforts taken, will not be involved in the work of the 4-th level of AAI – is quite high. It is common that some dogs are engaged, after all, in 2-nd and 3-rd levels of work.

Dogs of the 4-th level of AAI live in the family of a handler, or in specialized schools. These dogs are capable of performing tasks with different people, they can propose their way-out models and adjust the rehabilitation process at their own discretion. This is a full-fledged professional partner for a specialist, whose help is invaluable and irreplaceable.


2. A dog of the 3-rd level has a very similar socialization and education program, as well as for the 4-th level, but its training programs to perform future tasks are easier. Therefore, raising a puppy for the 3-rd level of AAI can take place not only in specialized cognitive nursery schools, but also in some private nurseries, where owners have sufficient level of knowledge and professionalism, are members of various programs and organizations that supervise the processes of raising dogs for AAI.

Testing of dogs of the 3-rd level goes through 12 stages and 3 levels, and includes sections of socialization and behavioral responses.


The dogs live in the family of a handler or a volunteer family, who take on the responsibility of daily targeted education and support of the dog's working level, as well as necessary rehabilitation work for the rehabilitation.


Work of dogs of the 3-rd level is pair-based, but not the leading one. The dog can offer and make minor adjustments to the training process, but on request and with the consent of the handler.


3. The dog of the 2-nd level of AAI is also brought up from birth by special programs of development and socialization, which include models of purposeful attraction and stimulation of a person to the formation of communication within society even after the age of the dog's maturity. Other socialization and training programs start to work here. Testing in the process of growth and education takes place in 8 stages and on 2 levels.


In the future, the dog will be permanently residing in the family chosen for her. It is also possible to stay in a volunteer family, if the features of work with some types of problems do not allow 24/7 stay of the dog (for example: work in the elderly homes).


4. The dog of the 1-st level of AAI should be ideally grown under a special curriculum, but it can be also chosen among the adult population in the result of several levels of broad testing programs that include not only direct reactions and individual maps but also tests that estimate predicted deep responses (!).


The peculiarities of selection of dogs, if they were not born under special programs of education: to select a candidate on the basis of double extended deep testing, to evaluate the results of tests, the prospects and training should be formed by a professional and practitioner of a very high level, because primary and secondary socialization were not carried out, and the processes of mental and behavioral reactions were closed at the levels of adaptation.


The person conducting the piloting and all subsequent levels of testing, forms the direction of behavioral correction, describes the programs of individual training, should be of even higher professional level than handlers of the II and III categories, understand the psychophysiology at the deep levels, the laws of the formation of the Family and the Pack, sign language and visual communication, system of signs of the anatomical level, so that the results and conclusions of the tests are as correct as possible.


The following example visibly demonstrates how a small mistake may result in undesirable negative consequences:


The reaction "visual disregard of the conflict" is formed on two different, opposite (!) psychological reactions.


First: disregard (lack of response), which is formed through the scheme of psychological FREEZING and reaction masking, as one of the six ways out of the conflict (life situation).


In other words, the dog creates the appearance of ignoring the situation, because it wants to be left alone.


Visually, it looks like the dog does not respond, but during and after such conditions the dog gets chronic stress cortisol-based responses, and as a result - redirected (projected) aggression on living or non-living objects, or even on itself.


In professional circles, the name of such behavior is known as "disregard due to freezing".


The second kind of visual ignoring of the situation is formed due to the lack of interpretation and identification of the situation as a conflict. This kind of response is called "disregard because of relaxation".

In simple words: the dog ignores the situation, because it is not important to the dog, is not read by the brain as a problematic one or a conflict.


What is the risk of a mistaken assessment of the situation and the poorly conducted tests or false conclusions?


For an average person or even a middle-class dog trainer, both responses of disregard look identical. Therefore, testing and reading of test results will also have the same result. But in reality, we have two completely different behaviors, but as a result of one of them will be postponed in time, redirected aggression (!), The responsibility for which lies entirely on the person who falsely tested the dog.


And now, I am coming back to AAI.


Another important nuance in this topic is: children and some adults read information about the dog's feelings at a subconscious level, just like our dogs. This is especially true for autistic children and people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


If a dog works (contacts) with them at the levels of obedience-subjugation, then internal feelings of patients become unconsciously negative. Externally everything looks good. But the child is even more detached or closed from attempts to impose a contact with the dog.


Adults also cannot explain why their response to the process of AAI is more negative, and not with the expected positive result. The anxiety of people with PTSD due to such unprofessional "therapies" increases.

This explains the failure of some AAI programs in Ukraine or the lack of real results in others.


Dogs, being forced by participants in human work programs, also experience overload and psychological trauma. Non-professional leaders, or people with little practical experience, are unable to scan the animal's condition in time and stop the process before the injury begins. Both children and some adults feel this coercion and tension very much!


At the same time, very often, unqualified dog trainers actually do not know the ways and methods of rehabilitation of a dog after each (!) task performed. Ordinary sleep time or gaming is rarely enough!


AAI cannot be a mechanism for restoring one through the destruction of another.

And it includes not only the direct work of a "child (person) - a dog", which is a small tip of the iceberg, but also must capture holistic processes of social influence, information learning and integrated models of change in our consciousness.


We must understand the depth of responsibility and carry out our duties as professionally as possible!


The School of Social Cynology “ Harmonic Dog ” Oleksandra Berehovenko, 2018