Primary Sources: Canine-Assisted Therapy as Trauma-Informed Care

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Photograph of a young woman posing with a dog.

A preliminary study of group intervention along with basic canine training among traumatized teenagers: A three-month longitudinal study (abstract). Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 33, No. 10, October 2011.

What it’s about: This study describes the effects over time of using canine-assisted therapy to treat adolescent girls who experienced trauma from sexual abuse. The young women were either at high risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder or had already developed PTSD symptoms.

Why read it: Youth workers may not understand why so many homeless youth have dogs. This article provides insight into how youth may inadvertently be alleviating the effects of traumatic events, as well as preventing the onset of PTSD after experiencing trauma. The psychological benefits of the human-pet relationship can be magnified by involving youth in training these canine companions.

Biggest takeaway for youth workers: During the course of the study, participants' PTSD symptoms rapidly declined. By the end, fewer participants had depressive symptoms. The authors suggest that being with an animal lowers anxiety and motivates patients to participate in therapeutic activities. Having a dog around can also put youth in touch with what they are feeling, the authors say, and enable them to more easily trust health professionals and youth workers. And helping to train the animals can give youth a sense of control and self-confidence, which prior research has shown to be important in the process of healing and recovering from trauma.

Additional Reference: youth.gov highlighted Virginia Woof Dog Daycare Center in “A Hand and Paw Partnership Benefits Homeless Youth.” The center, run by Outside In, a youth shelter in Portland, OR, not only gives homeless youth an opportunity to bond with the dogs, but also facilitates career development and self-sufficiency skills by having youth work at the center.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.)

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