Canine Therapy Corps Featured in Contemporary Justice Review

As you may know, part of Canine Therapy Corps’ mission is to advance animal-assisted interventions through research and collaboration.  An important step in this process is partnering with respected publications and news outlets in order to get the word out about this important tool and share how it can be used effectively with those in need.

That’s why we are thrilled to share with you the news that an article written by Canine Therapy Corps’ Executive Director, Callie Cozzolino, and Evaluation Volunteer, Melissa Kelly, has been published in Contemporary Justice Review: Issues in Criminal, Social, and Restorative Justice!  The article, entitled “Helping at-risk youth overcome trauma and substance abuse through animal-assisted therapy,” details how animal-assisted therapy empowers youths to move past traumatic experiences through a structured dog handling curriculum.  

Specifically, the article describes our program at Lawrence Hall, which is designed to help youths develop responsibility for their actions, build their self-confidence and self-discipline, improve their emotional management, and help them build trust.  The article goes on to say:

“Also related to fostering positive social interaction, the animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program targets depression, which is sometimes prevalent among youths who are dealing with substance abuse and a variety of traumatic experiences (Colder, Chassin, Lee, & Villalta, 2010). Other primary short-term outcomes of the AAT program are to increase the youths’ impulse control and self-esteem and improve their communication skills…Impulse control is inherent in dog handling and training, as greater strides can often be made when the handler tailors his or her style to that of the dog they are working with. The implication is that the youths must learn to set aside some of their preconceived notions and inclinations and alter their own behavior to progress their therapy dog’s compliance. Thus, the youths must learn to adapt their teaching style to the therapy dogs’ learning processes.”

These goals are accomplished by pairing the youth with a volunteer and therapy dog over the course of several weeks, during which time they teach the dog obedience, agility, as well as a new special skill.  According to the article:  

“The specific ways in which the AAT program targets the outcomes is by helping the youths make specific connections between the handling and training of their therapy dogs and their understanding and management of their own behavior. These lessons are the backbone of the AAT curriculum. For example, the second week focuses on the foundational knowledge and skills that the youths need to help them establish a positive, respectful, and successful relationship with their therapy dog. In the third week of the curriculum, where the focus is on the concept of obedience in dog training, the youths learn how to manage situations by taking control in a positive way rather than allowing the behavior of another to dictate their behavior.”

Having seen these programs in action, I can say firsthand how many parallels our participants draw from their experiences with the therapy dogs.  Whether it be the youth who gains a better understanding of what his body language conveys to others while practicing agility, or the youth who learns patience and persistence as he teaches his therapy dog a new special skill, during each session, the youths are taking away lessons which will serve them well as they face the challenges life throws at them.  While technical in nature, this article does an excellent job of explaining the process behind these lessons and how the program effectively imparts life skills which will help the youths moving forward.

We hope this article will give readers around the globe a unique perspective into Canine Therapy Corps’ work with at-risk youths and help them apply a similar model to assist adolescents in need and put them on a better path forward.  

If you are interested in reading more, click here to read the abstract on the publisher’s website.  If you are interested in reading the article in its entirety, please click here.  

As always, thank you for your support of Canine Therapy Corps!

-Ann Davidson