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Children and Dogs: Six Tips for Success

Children and Dogs: Six Tips for Success

On top of already having a great temperament, the dogs you see in our pet therapy programs go through a lot of training and testing to earn their Therapy Dog Registration through nationally recognized certifiers. [Read related: What’s the Difference? Service Animals, Therapy Animals, and Emotional Support Animals.] Their handlers also train and test along with them, constantly watching and advocating for both the children and dogs during visits to make sure everyone is having a good time.

It’s important to remember that some of the things our Registered Therapy Dogs might not think twice about – like getting hugs – can be very uncomfortable or scary for other dogs! As an organization that provides pet therapy to children, we wanted to share a few quick tips to keep in mind when children are interacting with dogs:

Tip #1: Request permission

Instruct children to always request permission of an owner before petting a dog. All dogs (even Registered Therapy Dogs!) have preferred ways of being greeted and pet, and some dogs – no matter how cute! – are not safe to pet. 

Tip #2: Supervision is Key

Always supervise interactions between dogs and children, even if it’s a family pet that’s known to be friendly. Being present allows you to intervene quickly if needed and potentially stop an accident before it even happens. Even friendly family dogs can have days where they are overwhelmed by stimuli in their environment, and some dogs become more easily overwhelmed as they age. An overwhelmed dog can become a stressed & defensive dog. 

Tip #3: Proper Introductions

When introducing a new dog to a child, do it gradually and in a controlled environment. Allow the dog to approach at their own pace, and always supervise the interaction closely and be ready to intervene if either the dog or the child becomes uncomfortable.

Tip #4: Learn Dog Body Language

Common signs of stress or discomfort in dogs, like growling, bared teeth, or tightly tucked tail are usually well-known, but there are also more subtle indicators such as walking away to avoid interaction, “whale eyes” (when they widen and show the whites of their eyes), stiffened body, and stress yawning. Teaching kids to recognize these signs can help them know when to give a dog space.

Tip #5: Establish Boundaries

Teach children to respect a dog’s personal space and to understand that dogs, like people, need their own time and space. Encourage children to give dogs space when the dog retreats to their bed or designated areas, especially if the dog is showing signs of wanting to be left alone. This helps prevent situations where a dog might feel cornered or overwhelmed that could lead to potential defensive reactions.

Tip #6: Encourage Empathy and Gentle Interactions

Teach children to interact with dogs gently, avoiding rough play or sudden movements that might startle the dog. Encourage them to pet dogs calmly and not to climb on them or pull on their ears, tails, or fur. 

Whether a Therapy Dog at school or a family pet at home, not only do dogs provide unconditional love, but they also offer a unique way for children to learn important social and emotional skills like respect, empathy, and confidence. When we promote safe interactions between our kids and their furry friends, they benefit from the human-animal bond in positive ways that will remain with them for years to come!

As a pet therapy nonprofit, leading successful interactions between children and dogs is all in a day’s work for the Gabriel’s Angels pack. Browse through our website to learn more about how the human-animal bond can help the children in our community learn, grow, and heal.

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Inspiring Excellence: Pet Therapy Team Kerry & Carmel Receive Award

Inspiring Excellence: Pet Therapy Team Kerry & Carmel Receive CCUSD Award 

We are grateful to partner with schools and other youth-serving organizations who appreciate the life-changing impact of pet therapy for the children in their care.

One of these partners is Lone Mountain Elementary School, located within Cave Creek Unified School District (CCUSD), where Volunteer Kerry & Therapy Dog Carmel visit for our Animals, Books, and Children (ABC) Program.

The staff at Lone Mountain appreciate the visits from Kerry & Carmel so much that they nominated them for the district’s Inspire Excellence Award, one of the highest honors given in CCUSD to recognize outstanding contributions from teachers, administrators, support staff, and community members — and we are very pleased to announce that Kerry & Carmel won!

School Principal Shelly Richardson and staff surprised Kerry with the news by presenting her with flowers (and dog treats for Carmel!), and a letter inviting them to an awards ceremony to formally receive their recognition.

“I was really stunned! We do what we do because we love it, not because we need recognition.” Kerry shared, “I am grateful to the Cave Creek Unified School District and the wonderful staff at Lone Mountain for their enthusiastic support of our program! It is always nice to know that what we do really does have an impact and makes a difference!”

At the CCUSD Awards Ceremony, the Superintendent read a wonderful write-up recognizing their dedication and the difference they’ve made in the lives of students and staff alike through their pet therapy work. Therapy Dog Carmel was the star of the show as she accompanied Kerry to the stage to accept their award.

The Importance of Pet Therapy in Our Community

This recognition of Kerry & Carmel’s work is a validation of the profound impact that pet therapy can have for the children in our community. At a time when mental health and well-being can be a struggle, Carmel’s sweet and gentle presence has reduced stress and anxiety on campus and enhanced the confidence and motivation to read for the students she visits with one-on-one.

This award serves as a reminder that sometimes, the most transformative lessons come from the unlikeliest of sources—a wagging tail, soulful gaze, and soft fur of a four-legged therapist. Therapy dogs like Carmel bring a unique dimension to educational settings, offering comfort, support, and a non-judgmental presence that can be profoundly therapeutic.

As we celebrate Kerry & Carmel receiving this well-deserved award, let’s also take a moment to reflect on the broader message they embody—the power of empathy, connection, and unwavering dedication to nurturing the hearts and minds of our future generations through pet therapy.

  • A little boy holds his certificate of completion for the ABC Pet Therapy Program and poses next to Therapy Dog Carmel.

  • A note written to Carmel by an ABC Pet Therapy Program Participant.

  • Top: A little girl holds her Certificate of Completion for the ABC Pet Therapy Program and poses next to Carmel. Below: Carmel checks out the gifts from her student.

  • Gifts for Carmel from an ABC Pet Therapy Program participant, including a new toy, dog treats, love letter note, and handmade card.

  • A little girl poses with Carmel while holding her certificate of completion from the ABC Pet Therapy Program.

  • A note written to Carmel by an ABC Pet Therapy Program Participant.

Do you have an incredible dog like Carmel you’d like to share with children in need? Sign up for a free virtual information session to learn more!

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What’s the Difference? Service Animals, Therapy Animals, and Emotional Support Animals

What’s the Difference? Service Animals, Therapy Animals, and Emotional Support Animals

Human-animal connections continue to play a crucial role in enhancing our well-being, however, there is some confusion surrounding the difference between the roles of service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals. While these roles all involve animals providing support and companionship, they serve distinct purposes and have different legal rights. Let’s go over the differences between these three important roles in the realm of human-animal relationships.

Service Animals: Empowering Independence

Service animals are specially trained to assist individuals with disabilities in performing specific tasks. These tasks are directly related to the individual’s disability and are aimed at increasing their independence and quality of life. Common examples include guide dogs for the visually impaired, alert dogs for diabetics, and mobility assistance dogs for those with physical limitations.

Key Characteristics of Service Animals:

  1. Assist Only One Person: A service animal is trained to assist their handler specifically rather than multiple people.
  2. Highly Trained: Service animals undergo rigorous training to perform specific tasks that mitigate their owner’s disability.
  3. Protected by Law: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States, service animals are allowed access to public places where animals are generally not permitted.
  4. Not Just for Physical Disabilities: Service animals can also be trained to assist individuals with mental health conditions, such as PTSD or anxiety.

Fun fact: Although most service animals are dogs, in certain circumstances miniature horses are also able to qualify as official service animals!

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): Providing Comfort and Stability

Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide companionship and alleviate emotional distress for individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions. These animals offer a sense of comfort, stability, and emotional connection to their owners, helping them manage symptoms and improve their overall well-being.

Key Characteristics of Emotional Support Animals:

  1. Prescribed by Healthcare Professionals: ESAs require a recommendation from a licensed healthcare professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist.
  2. Protected by Housing Laws: In the United States, ESAs are granted certain housing-related accommodations under the Fair Housing Act, allowing their owners to keep them in housing that otherwise might not permit pets.
  3. No Legal Access Rights: Unlike service animals, therapy animals do not have legal rights to access public places where pets are not allowed. They require permission to enter these areas.

What is the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal? Service animals are nearly always dogs and must be trained to perform specific tasks for their handler, to the point that they can be considered medical equipment and receive special protections under the law. Emotional support animals can be any type of pet and do not need specific training, so long as they ease their owner’s mental health symptoms.

Therapy Animals: Spreading Comfort and Joy

Therapy animals are trained to provide comfort, companionship, and emotional support to people in various settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster-stricken areas. These animals interact with multiple individuals, offering emotional relief and often contributing to the overall healing process.

Key Characteristics of Therapy Animals:

  1. Temperament and Training: Therapy animals must have a calm and friendly demeanor and undergo specific training to interact positively with people in diverse environments.
  2. Visitation-Based: Therapy animals don’t typically live with the people they provide therapy for; instead, they visit people on location to offer emotional support on a volunteer basis.
  3. No Legal Access Rights: Unlike service animals, therapy animals do not have legal rights to access public places where pets are not allowed (they may acquire special permission to enter these areas).

What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a therapy animal? An emotional support animal comforts their owner and does not need specific training, while a therapy animal offers support to many people and must be very well trained.

Understanding the distinctions between service animals, therapy animals, and emotional support animals is essential for fostering a respectful and inclusive environment for both animals and individuals in need of their support. While each role serves a unique purpose, they collectively contribute to the well-being of countless people, enriching lives through companionship, comfort, and assistance. Whether it’s a guide dog leading a visually impaired person, a therapy dog bringing joy and confidence to a struggling student, or an emotional support dog providing comfort to someone with anxiety, these remarkable animals truly make our world a better place!

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Charity ID (EIN): 86-0991198

Arizona QCO: 20449

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