Dog therapy has been used for years across the world to help children, elderly people, patients in hospitals and other people in need. Dogs provide comfort and love to vulnerable people, including those with anxiety disorders and autism. With the help of dogs, children become more open and sociable, self-confident and brave. Only recently though dog therapy has been established in Ukraine when the need for psychological support increased as a result of the conflict in the east of the country. People and especially children who fled the conflict zone found themselves in a vulnerable position, as they did not only lose their homes but had to quickly adjust to new surroundings. With this in mind, GIZ took the initiative to introduce this approach in the regions affected by the increased number of internally displaced people in Eastern Ukraine.
Dog therapy is a common effort. It involves working with psychologists, dog handlers and specifically trained dogs used for therapy sessions. Therefore, a number of trainings was provided for psychologists on dog therapy as well as child psychology and mental disorders. The training was most intensive for dog handlers and their dogs as they had to learn the whole process from scratch. After each training, they had to pass an exam to get a license to provide therapy. To keep the process of learning going, dog handlers also attended the courses to become trainers themselves, so that more and more people can further benefit from dog therapy.
“For Hilary (a trained dog) and me, dog therapy is not just a hobby, it’s our life duty. With our work in a children’s home and psychiatrist clinic, we show how effective this method is and most importantly how happy kids become while cuddling and playing with dogs”, – specified Elena Lakhno, a dog handler.
28 licensed dog handlers and 41 psychologists, jointly with the trained dogs have already provided more than 640 therapy sessions in the east of Ukraine. This helped more that 1000 children and their families and the number is constantly growing. Dog handlers with their dogs as well as 41 psychologists, who received special education, now not only practice dog therapy but teach others and represent this approach at scientific conferences in Ukraine and beyond hoping that more and more people can benefit from it.