Map, the therapy dog: more than a best friend

After years of hoping and searching, and a couple more of training, I finally have the perfect partner in my practice as a speech and play therapist: a Portuguese water dog named Map. Like any good therapy dog, Map can reach children in a way that no one else can.

Therapy dogs provide comfort and support. They must be social, gentle, and enjoy getting and giving physical affection—Maps has those qualities in spades. They also must be well behaved and respond to their handlers, neither of which applied to Map when I got him as a puppy. He chewed everything in sight. On walks, he sniffed every blade of grass, picked up every acorn and nosed into every clump of mud, no matter what I said or wanted.

After many therapy dog classes and a lot of practice, we learned. I say “we” because I had to be trained as well. I’ll admit, there were many bumps on the road, but after two years of training, Map became a certified therapy dog. He shines when he is in his blue training coat visiting a preschool. He loves to see the kids and to work with me.

How does Map help kids? His presence somehow lets children open up to learning. He offers kids a way to feel more whole in the face of physical illness or disability. He can also help children heal from emotional pain. One child I worked with, a four year old, lost his parents on 9/11. He stopped talking and refused to answer anyone. Over several visits, Map helped this child find his voice again.

Children with language delays or developmental disabilities are a big part of my practice. For those who are comfortable with dogs, Map is a great co-therapist. Children practice social skills and talk to Map as if he is a peer. I worked with one perky four year old who would not talk or make any sounds. He had what’s called childhood developmental dyspraxia. This is the inability to produce sound combinations with vowels and consonants. Out of frustration he threw tantrums instead of requesting things from his parents and he substituted a gesture system for language. I knew that children in a crisis state can relate to animals, so I brought Map to his school to see him. The child smiled, leaned over Map and buried his face into his coat. He looked up and said, “Puppeeeeee!” This was his first word. It was a long process to recovery, but the child got better—and Map was there to help. By the age of six, this boy could converse just like his peers. His parents happily had a new problem, “Can you get this child to stop talking? We can’t get in a word!” they told me.

Sharing and negation skills are something else that Map can help me help children improve. Sometimes Map sets the example. He is good at sharing his beloved rubber bone. A child can take away his bone and Map won’t budge or move. The child then shares a toy with Map.

Map is also trained to follow a child in play and focus on him or her, giving the child his undivided attention. Even though many children get this kind of attention from their family, they still love this special attention from a trained therapy dog. As you can see in the video below, Map can stay with a child during an obstacle course and, just as important, is a good listener.

Like any great therapist, Map knows how to listen and how to help children help themselves.

Ann Densmore will be speaking at the conference Educating Diverse Minds: Using Individual Brain Differences to Teach and Reach All Learners, to be held in Boston November 16-18, 2012.


Map the therapy dog

Related Information: Your Successful Preschooler

Comments:

  1. Viksa

    Therapy dogs have been part of human life for so many years, but now we are able to recognize it properly.
    Thanks.

  2. Daniel

    Great article, thanks for the useful information.

  3. Anonymous

    Has anyone used or believes that slippery elm could benefit dogs/pets?

    I’d be interested to know the views of those who have tried it on their dogs?

  4. yanni

    great post, please give me article about therapy for snake and fish,

  5. Canine Services International

    Here in Australia I run a dog training and behavioural consultancy and I am fortunate enough to do work with some Autistic Spectrum programs involving young adults. Not only is it super rewarding but the results with the clients are so pronounced!

    Great blog post, thanks for sharing.

  6. DEwa Perkasa

    Good Articels

  7. Dany

    Is there any comment here that is related to topic?
    I was wondering where can one find training videos for a therapy dog? Any selection process required?
    What type of dogs are best for this kind of work?

  8. chepz

    Hey

    Thanks for sharing really helpfull information.

  9. Mr.S

    very interesting article and it is good news for fans of dogs.

    Happy new year :)

  10. Avid

    Wow…very nice article..:)

    Happy New Year Anne Densmore
    and i also wishing all of blog memebers…:)

  11. Winnipeg Photographers

    Map sounds like a wonderful therapist, I have a photo collection of my own pup bringing smiles to all my children as well, It’s my own therapy.

  12. pemrograman pascal

    This is a wonderful article and something that I have never really considered about my dog. I really believe that our little best friends do undergo mental issues. My dog I know for a fact has depression and I try to cheer him up, but he just won’t cheer up. Our other dog is happy go lucky.

    We do a lot of stuff with our dogs. We walk them for miles as the exercise regiment of the Scarsdale Diet tells us to. We have lost a lot of weight walking them around, but still he seems depressed. I don’t really know what to do.

    i’ll back

  13. may do huyet ap

    my dog ​​is so cute, I loved it and are willing to do for it whatever.

  14. muadspenser@gmail.com

    Dog!Dog is really helpful animal than other animals.I love dog and i have dog his name is don.Don helps me to doing photography,when i was a new photographer,i captured many photos of my dog.When i complete wedding party and go to home at first care my dog.Because it have much contribution to me make a photographer.Thanks for sharing this lovely post.

  15. Peter

    Depression is an illness that can occur to animals almost as much as to people.

    Great Inspiration story!

  16. animals service

    This blog is best and I love to read whole artcile about dogs. you can get more information from animals service also

  17. Andy

    A really very useful and interesting post. One of the best one I have read for dogs. I really love the way you write.

    Regards,
    Andy Techienawa

  18. RAM

    Hey

    Thanks for sharing really helpfull information.

  19. veyromax

    Great article,it will be helpful to any dog lovers.

  20. Mary H. Johnston

    Ann,
    Great article. Map looks like the perfect companion for your kids. I have a friend who is training her dog to be a therapy dog for adults. It’s a great idea.

  21. Samantha

    I think each and every puppy deserves to be a friend of each and every human being!

  22. Donald Walker

    Interesting story, dogs do help kids, and also us adults. Pets, like children have their own personalities and quirks.

  23. Sara Adams

    Incredible. I had no idea that there was even such a thing as therapy dogs.

    I’ve always felt animals were very important to a child’s development, and not just domestic animals, but how clever to put them in a therapeutic environment.

    And of course well done to you too for going through the training.

    Thanks,

    Sara

  24. Zuni

    This blog is best and I love to read whole artcile about dogs. I have never read blog like thi sin my life. It i svery great post and help me to get friendly with dog and dog care.

  25. Déco

    I love this post, thanks for information

  26. Diane Manzella, Ed.D.

    Ann, as you know, I am a big fan of yours. You are always on the cutting edge, always immaculately intuitive with kids and therefore so successful in your practice. I have gained valuable insight as how to work with autistic kids from your books, cds and , of course, by knowing you for 30 years! I am delighted that Map has joined your therapy practice as a full and equal partner.

  27. Paige Sst

    great post and very interesting,It encourages me to spend time with my dog and also time to play with them and to take good care at them, dogs really provide comfort to humans and I do believe that dog is still man’s bestfriend, you have provided some great information on who dogs make great pets.
    I have a great time reading in your articles…keep it up y’all:)

  28. Krisally Alisa

    Depression is an illness that can occur to animals aslmost as much as to people. Depression can be treated…so don’t let this illness affect your sweet dog and your life too much.

  29. Kirk

    This is the best article about dog that I’ve ever read in my whole life. This post encourages me to give more time with my dog and spend playing and taking care of them more than a best friend. You are right, dogs provide comfort to humans. Great article.

    Kirk

  30. Lauren

    Great article Ann! I’ve seen firsthand how effective you and Map can be together. You two are amazing therapists, can’t wait for your talk!

  31. Jimmy

    This is a wonderful article and something that I have never really considered about my dog. I really believe that our little best friends do undergo mental issues. My dog I know for a fact has depression and I try to cheer him up, but he just won’t cheer up. Our other dog is happy go lucky.

    We do a lot of stuff with our dogs. We walk them for miles as the exercise regiment of the Scarsdale Diet tells us to. We have lost a lot of weight walking them around, but still he seems depressed. I don’t really know what to do.

    • Rise VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC

      Very nice article and video! Great work! The following award-winning book might be of interest…
      Play Therapy with Kids & Canines (2008). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.

    • Rise VanFleet

      Sorry, Jimmy, that my general comment ended up as a reply to you. In response to your question… I imagine you have already checked with your vet? If so, then you might consider a canine behavior consultant to evaluate.. There is a listing of certified people by location at http://www.iaabc.org (Internatl Assn of Animal Behavior Consultants).

  32. Elaine Gabovitch

    As always, you have added value to your practice for the love of the children you serve – and what lucky kids they are! Map will be sure to prompt language, relatedness, and social skills – brilliant!

  33. Dogs With Anxiety

    This is a great post, you have provided some great information on who dogs make great pets.

  34. Iris Ponte

    Fantastic work! It’s amazing what a four-footed friend can do for children.

    • ann

      Hi Iris,
      It’s also amazing what you do as director of The Henry Frost School in Belmont, MA.
      I love your dramatic play work with children!!
      Best,
      Ann

  35. Karen Levine, Ph.D. Psychologist

    What a wonderful story! What therapy dogs can do for kids emotionally and socially (and for their grownups too) I think we are only just beginning to tap into. You can see the little boy’s face ‘melt’ with warm engagement and empathy as he holds Map’s head in his hands. Also have we studied the benefits for everyone of shared FUN!? Thanks for the fun I had seeing Ann enjoying her dog enjoying the boy enjoying the dog! I want to go out and get our pup therapy dog trained! Great inspirational article!!

  36. Liz Gebhardt

    Great article and video! Map is beautiful – inside and out.

    I had 2 Polish Lowland Sheepdogs who were both volunteer therapy dogs at Stanford Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto CA. I now have a 4 year old Doodle, Shiloh – who has her CGC and we are going to start a therapy dog training program soon as well.

    Can I ask you where Map came from? I have interest in Porties (as have mild dog allergies and spend a lot of time at the beach).

    Thanks.

  37. Roxanne McGahey

    What a great article Ann. As a dog lover and a teacher your article was of great interest to me. You bring home how much dogs can help children develop. I believe there is also research available on how dogs can assist caregivers and parents by warning of epileptic seizures before they occur. Dogs are also great comfort to children that are ill and suffering.

    As a dog lover (2 dogs, 2 cats), and a piano and Music Theory Online teacher, I have seen firsthand how music can make a profound change in a child’s life. I have also found that my dogs are also treated as confidants and special friends to my students.

    Thanks again Ann for a great article. I found it extremely interesting I hope you don’t mind if I send some traffic your way and share with some friends and colleagues as I found it very inspirational.

    • Ann

      Thanks for reading my article. I love it that you really got the whole idea of how animals and the trained therapy dog can help! The video clip will be in my talk in Boston. Thanks! Ann