by: Allie Ibarra
Texas State University’s Department of Counseling is conducting research on a very specific type of therapy that involves kids and dogs.
Hope and Healing with Kids and Canines is a study that uses canine-assisted play therapy to find out if dogs in the therapy room have a positive impact on kids and teens struggling with self-concept, grief, behavior issues, substance abuse, or family issues.
Principal Investigator Doctor Elizabeth Hartwig says she is comparing canine assisted play therapy with activity therapy. Both have the same activities, but activity therapy doesn’t have a dog in the room. Hartwig says because of the type of research she’s conducting the child does not get to choose which type of therapy they are put into.
“I’m using a randomized study, where kids get randomly assigned to a group and that makes the results hopefully better because we truly are randomizing kids,” said Hartwig.
The dogs chosen for the therapy study have gone through months of training to be selected.
Hartwig says the therapy dogs had to pass certain skills and aptitude tests from a pet training organization called Pet Partners to be qualified for the study.
“In the evaluation that they have to pass they’ll do things like bump them from behind, or drop something behind them that may startle them,” said Hartwig. “What they want to see is how the dog will respond to that.”
The dogs and the pet practitioners went through a final evaluation together through Pet Partners, which includes vet screenings for the dogs.
The university currently offers both activity and canine-assisted play therapy for ages ten to 18 and the youth will participate in ten overall sessions of counseling that includes art, music and sandtray activities.
The sessions are not in a set scheduled, but designed to accommodate to the clients schedule. All youth will have a chance to interact with a therapy dog for at least two sessions and the therapy dogs are registered and have been evaluated.