K-9 Support Program
Support dogs tend to belong to an organisation and will work with many different persons or groups, unlike a service dog which works with an individual.
Studies have shown psychological benefits of support dogs in areas of stress and anxiety (Barker and Dawson 1998; Beck et al. 1986: Davis 1988; Siegal 1990).
Social science research provides evidence that animal companion have positive impacts on physiological symptoms, including:
- stress and anxiety
- high heart rate
- high blood pressure
- rapid shallow breathing
- dissociation. (see Johnson 2010)
Put simply animals may be able to calm people down and can have a positive impact on their emotions. The presence of such an animal can divert attention away from what is causing the stress and / or anxiety (Leaser 2005).
There have been studies in the role of dogs in therapy for victims of child sexual and physical abuse (see Dietz et al. 2012) and on patients with Post- traumatic stress disorder(lefkowitz et ak.2005)
Beck (1985) noted that one advantage of using Animal Assisted Therapy is that therapeutic results are often immediate even in difficult to treat patients who were previously withdrawn, uncooperative and uncommunicative. This is especially important in the context of supporting victims of crime during the forensic interview or at other key stages in the criminal justice system, such as testifying.
A recent study by Dietz et al. (2012) compared three different therapy groups for children who had experienced sexual abuse. The study was facilitated through a Children’s Advocacy Centre in the southern United States and involved 153 children between the ages of 7 and 17. Children in the groups that included therapy dogs showed statistically significant decreases in trauma symptoms including anxiety, depression, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sexual concerns.
Data also indicates staff from varied units report greater happiness, decreased sadness, and a greater sense of being loved when Animal Assisted Therapy is administered.
In Canada, over the past couple of years Victim services programs have started to incorporate support dogs into their work with victims of crime.
Dogs in victim services and dogs in courtrooms are more common in the United States than in Canada. In at least 21 states, dogs are able to, upon application by the prosecutor; accompany sexually abused children into the courtroom when they take the stand, offering support and comfort while children testify.
A support dog can be used for many reasons. In Australia Family violence is of utmost concern. K-9 Support program can be used for victims of any violent crime and can help in many other situations. There is huge scope for this to make a very big difference to our Justice System in Australia, for everyone involved.