Your Dog: An Unconditional Innovation in Attachment and Trauma Treatment

A multitude of recent studies strengthen the case for dogs in therapy and Calo Programs, an innovative behavioral health organization, has taken the use of canines to a whole other level. A new study conducted in August 2016 to investigate how dog brains process speech has revealed canines care about both what we say and how we say it. Researchers found that canine brains are far more capable than we thought. For example, dogs process vocabulary, recognizing each word as distinct, and further, that they do so in a way similar to humans. Any dog owner can attest to how wonderful a relationship between a human and a dog really is, so it may not come as a big surprise that science is starting to prove that dogs can be incredibly effective in therapy. For the full study, visit In another 2012 article titled “Canine Comfort: Do Dogs Know When You’re Sad?” Live Science summarized the results of a study conducted by University of London researchers led by psychologist Debbie Custance. The study analyzed the dogs’ capacity to demonstrate empathy. Volunteers were asked to pretend to cry and hum weirdly. Custance found that, “nearly all of the dogs came over to nuzzle or lick the crying person, whether it was the owner or a stranger, while they paid little attention when people were merely humming.” The study indicated that dogs might actually have the ability to sense distress. In general, it is well documented that people benefit from interacting with canines. Simply petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones, regulate breathing and lower blood pressure. Research has also shown that petting releases oxytocin and serotonin, hormones associated with bonding, affection and good feelings, in both the dog and the human. Other research at from 2001 has found that people who start caring for dogs report lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and also tend to have lower blood pressure. It is no surprise then that dogs would also possibly have a positive effect on mental health. For some people, like adolescents who have experienced overwhelming stress or trauma in their lives, seeking mental health services can be difficult. In fact, at least in regard to teens, one study showed that adolescents are highly unlikely to reach out to other humans for help when they sense a mental health issue. This is where therapy dogs can step in. Calo Programs has been facilitating groundbreaking and proprietary canine therapy for almost a decade. Every client has the opportunity to interact, parent, foster or adopt a golden retriever. “These dogs provide unconditional emotional support and companionship,” said Chris Perkins, CEO of Calo Lake Ozark. According to Jeanna Osborn, Calo’s canine therapy director, “Canines facilitate social interactions and help reluctant therapy students, especially those with attachment issues, embrace the process. In many cases, the Calo goldens act as liaisons between therapists and students, ‘co-therapists’ in a very real way.” For years Calo Programs has been spearheading the innovative use of purebred golden retrievers in therapy. This work has been particularly effective with those that have suffered from early life emotional and relational traumas often impacted by adoption. “We did a great deal of research before sending Adam to Calo,” said Bob B, parent of a child who was at Calo. “I know of no place better able to help our son. We have already recommended it to other families.” Calo Programs CEO Alex Stavros said, “We invest a lot of resources into our Canine Therapy Program because families tell us all of the time that their Calo golden saved their child’s life; our canine therapy is a treatment game changer.” Canine therapy at Calo Teens Program follows the human U.S-based family services model for fostering and/or adopting a Calo canine. Students go through a rather lengthy and required process to “qualify” for either foster care or adoption, with metaphors drawn all along the way to their own adoptive parents’ experience of adopting them. They learn safe and healthy relationship skills as they learn to care for the dogs. At any one time, Calo may have up to 40 canines on campus, which averages about two students per dog in the Boys and Girls Teen Programs. In the Preteens program, there are three mini Golden Retrievers, specially bred to be comfort companions, along with one mini poodle. These three dogs are available 24/7 to students, living with them in their homes. Additional older dogs are brought over from the teens program for training in the canines’ physical care and control needs. Calo caregivers and the entire adult team work together to provide foster care to the dogs and model what it means to safely and responsibly care for them. This is essential since pre-teens are usually not capable of providing this level of care for the dogs. Focus is on comfort and companionship and the dogs’ basic physical care and control needs. This is part of the students’ daily schedule. According to Osborn, more than 120 canines have been adopted throughout the years and a recent survey revealed that 89 percent of parents are satisfied with their canine since returning home and report that their canine is a central component in their family. Calo’s supply of puppies is produced by breeding their own dogs and usually creates some opportunity during a student’s stay to experience the level of care and attention demanded in “infancy,” as well as witnessing the stages of development of a more mature canine. Given the compelling research and the groundbreaking work by treatment providers across the country, it is no surprise canine therapy is growing in its impact and use. Thomas Ahern is the senior vice president of business development for Calo Programs, which is a behavioral and mental health provider specialized in healing the effects of complex developmental trauma. Calo is comprised of Calo Teens, Calo Preteens — both residential programs located in Lake Ozark, Missouri, predominately serving adoptive families, and New Vision Wilderness. Calo Young Adults, a transitional living program for young adults, and Embark by Calo a therapeutic workshop and family intensive program for those reeling from issues of trauma, attachment and adoption are two additional programs. For more information, visit Ahern can be reached at [email protected].

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