AHF Pet Therapy teams help a family overcome its fear of dogs

A family therapist contacted AHF to request assistance with a family that had a debilitating fear of dogs. The father had been attacked by three German Shepherds as a child, and has feared and disliked dogs ever since. The children, an 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy, picked up on their father’s fear and also became afraid, to the point of panicking and running away whenever they encountered a dog in public. Over the course of six weeks, AHF members educated the family members on dog body language and proper behavior around dogs, and exposed them gradually to selected therapy dogs.

 The dogs chosen to assist had experience working with children, a mellow attitude, and a non-threatening demeanor. Bonnie, a Shetland Sheepdog, is READ certified and works with children on a regular basis. Macy, a calm Golden Retriever, also works regularly as a reading dog, and is very gentle and quiet.  Jake, a yellow Lab mix, has visited many children at school educational programs. His tail wags constantly while he works, and children love his wiry beard. The handlers kept the dogs under strict control, keeping them either lying down or facing away from the children until the children felt comfortable enough to approach them. AHF members involved in the project were Jan Vincent, Daleen Comer, and Diann Frey.

The visits began with minimal contact and a lot of talking about each dog, and progressed to brushing and petting, double-leash walking (handler and child each holding a leash), working with the dog doing tricks, and finally feeding treats.  At the last session, the father shared the news that the children had encountered a German Shepherd while walking, and had calmly passed by. The family is grateful to AHF members and their dogs for changing the lives of the children.

3 Responses to “AHF Pet Therapy teams help a family overcome its fear of dogs”

  1. Daleen Comer says:

    Follow-up:
    On Feb. 11, AHF teams were doing a pet therapy presentation at a school, and the girl was in one of the classes. She was comfortable petting all the therapy dogs, and very happy to see Bonnie again.

  2. Diann says:

    I will never forget this visit and felt so honored to be able to bring Jake and help this family get over their fears of dogs. By the time we left the father had Jake’s face in his hands kissing him. The little boy was giving Jake treats from his hand and the little girl was leading Jake on a walk using the second leash.

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