Roseann Bennett Is Helping Her Clients by Using Canine-Assisted Therapy

June 28, 2018 - By 

Children love dogs – they’re naturally drawn to their friendliness and playfulness. And while the positive benefits of having a pet have long been documented, there’s a more recent way in which dogs are being used to improve people’s lives – canine-assisted therapy. Therapists like Roseann Bennett, who practices in Hackettstown, N.J., have had great success when using man’s best friend to help clients with their issues.

Learn why Bennett wanted to incorporate therapy dogs into her practice, what they can do to improve a client’s life, what breeds make great therapy dogs, and who can benefit from working with them.

Why Bennett Turned to Man’s Best Friend

Center for Assessment and Treatment

Bennett, a licensed marriage and family therapist, has more than 10 years in the field of mental health. Her expertise is recognized by her peers – she serves as president of the northern chapter of the New Jersey Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.

Bennett is the cofounder of the Center for Assessment and Treatment, which opened in 2010, has helped thousands of people, and has added canine-assisted therapy to its list of services and treatments. Bennett and the staff at the Center, which receives no funding to offer its mental health services, work tirelessly to help those in the community live healthy lives and to break down the stigma of mental health issues.

Bennett, who doesn’t turn clients away because they don’t have the ability to pay, tries to find new and innovative methods to help her clients along with tried-and-true methods.

While working with children, she first became interested in canine-assisted therapy. Dogs provide a safety net for children because they are calming to them. A child always feels accepted and never judged by a dog, and making a child feel comfortable is one of the first steps in getting them to open up.

Meet Jack, the Therapy Dog

Bennett’s therapy dog, Jack, can help relax those needing assistance and get them to put their guard down, which is an important aspect of therapy. Jack is introduced to the client in a strategic fashion and won’t be used if there is a better and more effective established treatment out there.

Therapy dogs are different from service dogs, which is what most people think of when they think of trained dogs. But service dogs receive training to help a person with special needs. Therapy dogs on the other hand are meant to address emotional needs – they are particularly useful for people with anxiety disorders or autism, for instance. But their use also brings about physical benefits as well.

The use of therapy dogs as a targeted therapy first started in 1976, after Elaine Smith noticed a dog brought around by a chaplain was helping the people it stopped to visit. She decided to start a program in which training dogs would visit different facilities to help those there.

Certain breeds of dogs are better at being therapy dogs than others are. Some dog breeds that are up to the task of being therapy dogs include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Greyhounds, Beagles, Saint Bernards, Pomeranians, Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Pembroke Welsh Corgis. They should be a calm dog because if they are too excitable, it can defeat the purpose. They have to have basic obedience training so they won’t be jumping up on the clients they are there to help. In addition, therapy dogs have to be able to handle new situations, people, and settings.

Because therapy dogs will be meeting so many people during the course of their career, socialization is a huge part of getting them ready for the task at hand. There are different organizations that will evaluate and register therapy dogs. But first, they have to prove that they can handle the strain of the job.

Once they’re trained, therapy dogs can help out in a lot of different settings, like schools, nursing homes, libraries, hospitals, and mental health centers like Bennett’s. They give love and affection to the people they’re designed to help.


Who Can Benefit from Therapy Dogs?

As mentioned earlier, children can reap huge rewards from their interactions with therapy dogs. Dogs are sometimes brought into schools to work with children who have anxiety issues. They can do wonders, for instance, when it comes to helping children read out loud in front of a teacher or a peer.

For children with anxiety, especially if they aren’t the best reader in the world, the simple act of reading out loud is enough to make them feel panicked and even sick to their stomachs. They can feel like those listening to them are judging every word they say and they’ll feel like they are the subject of ridicule with every word they mispronounce.

But when a therapy dog enters the picture, young readers tend to do better. They can read to the dog as they pet it, and the dog relaxes them enough that they aren’t thinking as much about their anxiety as they read aloud.

Even people who are depressed can benefit from having a therapy dog around. It’s hard to be depressed when there’s a loving creature who would do anything to earn some affection. Pets are instant mood boosters, and the physical contact they provide has a host of benefits.

Those suffering from loneliness, which can affect a lot of elderly people who are living alone and may not have family nearby to check on them, can take great comfort in therapy dogs.

People who have suffered from a traumatic experience can also benefit from therapy dogs. That’s why therapy dogs are sometimes brought in to disaster areas or to work with veterans. As a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional, Bennett knows how important it can be to find healthy and constructive ways to deal with trauma. That’s just one of the ways her therapy dog, Jack, will help her clients.

But emotional benefits aren’t the only ones that therapy dogs can provide. The love and affection they give can also offer physical benefits.

They can help lower a person’s blood pressure, stimulate the release of feel-good endorphins, help with a person’s cardiovascular health, make them feel less physical pain, and it might even help a person cut down on how much medication they have to take.

The long list of mental benefits is one of the reasons therapists, like Bennett, are interested in incorporating therapy dogs into their practice. In addition to the benefits already discussed, including reducing anxiety, fighting depression, and calming a person down, it can also be a way of improving a person’s communication, making them feel less alienated, and may even help them recover quicker than they might have without a therapy dog.

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