FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What everybody needs to know

How will working with Canine Comprehension help my child?

Generally speaking, AAI:

  • Creates an inviting and warm environment where young people feel accepted and ready to be listened to.
     
  • Having a well trained AAI dog in the room during sessions leads to increased feelings of relaxation and harmony.  
     
  • Studies have suggested that when an AAI dog is included in sessions, it can improve mood and reduce depression as well as improve the body’s response to stress.  These improvements assist in calmer classrooms and home environments as well as giving the young person the best setting to be receptive to learn. 
     
  • Our sessions focus on celebrating your child's success, leading to an increase of self-worth and self-esteem
     
  • Our curriculum is all about learning by doing, not just talking - young people get to experience how great it feels to improve their communication skills and manage their impulses.
     
  • Our AAI dogs also provide a comforting presence during tough times.  Sometimes a dog hug is all you need.

Explain the concept of therapy dogs in education

Let’s start with explaining Animal Assisted Therapy.

[Definition provided by Lead the Way Institute, used with permission, 2019.]

"Animal-Assisted Therapy, at its most basic, means including animals in therapeutic work with humans. There are many ways that animals can be included when working with humans, such as in counselling, teaching/education, rehabilitation, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, disaster relief, as humorous relief, as comfort and to assist in learning life skills, social skills or other key behaviours, to name a few.

When a professional incorporates an animal into their therapeutic practice, they find ways of allowing the animal to extend and facilitate their goals, based on their training and theoretical orientation. A counsellor, for example, may incorporate the use of a dog to explore and draw out issues of anger or attachment. Physical therapists may use handling of a small animal or grooming a horse in a motor-skills programme, or dog walking in a fitness or strength-training programme.

There is an increasing body of evidence in the use of animals in educational settings. Animal-Assisted Education or AAE is the term used to describe the use of animals to achieve educational goals.

Collectively, these animal-assisted modalities are known as Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI).”

So, some children have a hard time at school and can struggle with their learning and friendships as a result.  The Canine Comprehension Animal-Assisted Education model supports students in understanding their learning process better.  Our dogs are an important part of our work, however they are a single ingredient in our success with connecting with young people.  Canine Comprehension understands that relationships between tutors and students can have a lasting impact on the development of that young person. Tutors who have strong bonds with their students have been shown to be more effective in their teaching roles. Positive relationships also lead to lower levels of behavioral problems, stronger, dynamic classrooms, where relationship bonds are also able to achieve higher levels of academic success. Our tutors are experts in helping a young person connect and feel empowered to focus on their learning… Our dogs are used as part of the process of helping a young person trust their tutor, calm and smile during sessions.

You may ask - What is the difference between therapy animals and assistance animals?

[Explanation provided by Lead the Way Institute, used with permission, 2019.]

“Therapy animals need to be distinguished from assistance animals. Assistance animals are registered to provide a particular service to an individual with an illness or disability. The most well known example would be seeing-eye or guide dogs for the blind. There is however, an increasing role for assistance animals, especially dogs. 

Dogs are now trained to perform a range of physical tasks for people, such as picking up objects, opening doors and alerting to sounds. Dogs have even been trained to detect early signs of seizures or blood sugar changes and are able to alert their owners. Some of these dogs may actually be called therapy dogs (for example under the Pets As Therapy or PAT programme). Assistance dogs can be registered in most Australian states under Guide-Dog or Anti-Discrimination legislation. 

Because of their important functional and often life-saving roles, assistance animals may be granted ‘public access’, legally allowing them access into public buildings, transport and even restaurants and hospitals, indeed anywhere their humans go. This legal right does not extend to pets or other animals used in AAI programmes. Whilst therapy dogs/pets are able to receive training, registration or certification for insurance or legal purposes, they do not perform life-saving functions and are hence not allowed ‘public access’. Such registration is used to ensure a basic standard of training and reliability for animals and their handlers.

For example, a dog certified as a Victorian Canine Association Therapy Dog is assessed as suitable to work with children and elderly individuals, he is not registered as a therapeutic assistance dog that performs a life-saving or health-saving function for his owner. For this reason, he does not have the right to ‘public access’.”

How can I refer to a student?

We work with young people P-12, throughout Melbourne and regional Victoria.

The easiest way teachers, parents, legal guardians or caseworkers can access our services by completing our booking form:

If you have questions before booking please read through our FAQ and website or contact us.

Please be aware that we may have to add the client to our waiting list.  We give priority to those who have completed the booking form.

What do the dogs do in the sessions?

The dogs have many jobs.  Their main goal is to be a friendly, calming presence and support young people in connecting and focusing so the tutor is able to do their job more effectively.  A few examples of how we use the dogs are:

  • Mindfulness sessions, where young people learn breathing techniques through watching a snoozing dog.

  • Agility exercises, where young people have to problem solve and effectively communicate to get the dog through the course.

  • Games with the dog, where the young person has to work out stronger and weaker motivators for the dog.

  • Dog body language study, where young people discuss the zones of regulation the dog may be experiencing.

Our Facebook and Instagram pages are a great source of photos of our sessions - this will give you a better understanding of the dogs role in our work.

What if my child is afraid or allergic of dogs?

Fear: We pride ourselves on our approachability and dedication to inclusive learning spaces.  If a child is afraid of dogs we will calmly work on that fear at a pace the child feels comfortable with. We have had great success diminishing fear of dogs in our students because our dogs are obedient and carefully handled by the tutor. 

Please let us know if a student involved with us may be afraid of dogs and the depth of that fear.  We may arrange a meet and greet where the dog is instructed to drop and stay still, giving the child an opportunity to approach the dog in a less threatening environment.  If the fear is greater we can discuss making sure there is a reasonable distance between the dog and student.  Communication is the key here, let us know and we will do our best to improve the solution.  In almost all cases, the student who has had a previous fear of dogs has accepted our dog due to their calm nature and high quality training.

Allergies: Health concerns are taken very seriously at Canine Comprehension.  Before commencement someone from our friendly admin team will send our consent forms that address health concerns. This way our tutors are made aware of any students who may have a health issue triggered by a dog in the room.  Depending on the severity of the health issue the student may have to avoid contact, wear gloves, keep a safe distance or in very rare cases, may not be able to participate in this type of intervention..

To limit allergens, dogs are kept extremely clean.  Their teeth brushed and their claws filed.  They are also wiped down before, during and after sessions. When the dogs are not interacting, they are laying down on a special mat, to avoid loose dog hair dropping on the floor.

How should I prepare for a Canine Comprehension visit?

Inform the household or staff when a Canine Comprehensiontutor and therapy dog will be attending. The dog's will be identified by their working harnesses, and staff by their uniform.  Reiterate that these dogs are specifically trained, up to date with their vaccinations and health checks and medical records.

We require a staff member or guardian to be observing (and sometimes participating) in the session.  The majority of the time, they will not need to be an active participant, however sessions are always more effective when adults known to the students encourage them. If the observing adults are rotated, inform the new staff member of what to expect in sessions. An adult must attend each session for safety and reporting purposes.

Space: As we aim to create a comfortable space for our students to learn, we require the use of a quiet room where there is enough space for the participants to sit in a large circle. We often sit on the floor.  Weather permitting, also direct the tutor to an outside space where they can run their sessions. 

Tutor parking: The dog handler will arrive approximately 10 minutes prior to the first session. 

When possible, please make sure there is a parking space as close as possible to the area where they will be working. If parking is challenging, email the admin office to let them know. 

Signing in at schools: At schools, the tutor will come to the front desk and sign in. A school representative should meet the tutor at the front desk and walk them to the room where they will be working.

School programs should have permission forms: Need ready to hand the tutor in the first session.  Pre evaluation forms should have either already been completed by the students, or printed off for use in the first session. Please note our permission forms also have a photography consent section - as we aim to put our awesome students activities onto social media.  If you feel that the photography is inappropriate (even if the parents have signed the forms) - let your Canine Comprehension tutor know.

If you have misplaced the forms, click here to download a copies of these forms.

 

Materials: Written work covered in sessions will be left at the school / home.  Make sure these materials will be available to the tutor for each session.

Are you running programs during school holidays?

Yes!  Our day length holiday programs, led by our tutors and dogs ensure that activities focus on: emotional literacy, self care, confidence & communication.

Each day will consist of:

  • Dog Agility: Planning, communication & persistence skills.
  • Puppy Kitchen:  Working with others & coping with time frames.
  • Relaxed puppy: Mindfulness, skills to stay calm, focused & relaxed.
  • Best Dressed Doggy: Reading body language & encouraging others.

Tutors, therapy dogs & challenges will vary each day. For more information see our Holiday Programs. Dates and locations are usually announced a month before the next holiday break.

My child is part of a Canine Comprehension school program. How can I support them further?

Thank you for enrolling your child in the Canine Comprehension School Group Program. Supporting your child’s involvement in this program is a great first step to giving them an opportunity to explore their emotional expression and to connect positively with their learning environment.  Through weekly attendance, your child may now have more positive feelings about themselves and school. The presence of a dog can make awkward or tough conversations a little easier because the focus is not on the students. As a result, your child may feel less anxious, more in control of their emotions, or have made some new friends. 

Topics explored

  • Motivation - e.g., what motivates us; what is internal vs. external motivation; what motivates the dogs; how can we use motivation and incentives to promote positive thinking and behaviour.

  • Feelings - e.g., what they are; what we call them; how we express them; the benefits of sharing with others; strategies for managing strong ones. 

  • Thoughts - e.g., what is positive vs. negative thinking; how does our thinking affect the way we feel and behave; what control we have over our thinking. 

  • Communication - e.g., how we respect others when they are talking; effective ways of getting the attention of others; strategies for boosting confidence when speaking; actively practicing through teaching commands and tricks to the dog. 

  • Mindfulness - e.g., following a guided meditation; colouring; journalling or writing; drawing.

What this means:

Students have been given a greater awareness about their feelings and how to name them. They have been encouraged to communicate these feelings to people in their life through productive means (such as talking and sharing) rather than dysfunctional means (acting out, yelling, swearing or physically hurting others or property).  They have taken time to identify strategies that can help when they are feeling strong or negative feelings. They may have even started practicing these strategies in between our weekly sessions together. 

What you might notice:

  • Your child starts to talk more about their feelings and has words to name them. 

  • Your child shares details about the dog and the things they have taught the dog to do. This is likely to be accompanied by excitement but they could also express frustration that they aren’t achieving what they had hoped to. 

  • Your child explains that they need time or space from you. This could be a coping strategy they are trying to put into place to manage strong feelings in a positive way. 

  • Your child’s mood hasn’t really improved overall, perhaps just on the days of the Group Program.

What’s helpful for you to know: 

We talked a lot with students about strategies and techniques they can use to reduce negative feelings and increase positive ones. It can be helpful for children and young people to have a few supportive people in their life who know what these strategies and techniques are. As such, you might like to ask your child about one or two of them so that when they encounter a challenge, you can suggest a tool to help. 

Anxiety is a very real concern for children and young people and it is alarmingly common. They will feel more supported to deal with their strong feelings if the people around them validate their experiences and show understanding.  Refrain from saying “Don’t worry about it” or “Brush it off” and instead demonstrate support through statements such as, “That must be hard” or “Tell me more about that”, even if you can’t truly understand what they’re going through. 

What if you aren’t sure how to respond? 

  • Be curious and inquisitive. Ask questions and show a genuine interest. 

  • Take the time to listen. You don’t have to have all the answers but a listening ear can go a long way. 

  • Check-in with your child regularly to let them know that you care and haven’t forgotten about what they shared or how they are feeling.

  • If you would like to explore more professional support, give your child choice rather than forcing them into something they don’t want to do. 

  • Explore some of the websites specifically targeted to supporting parents with their child’s mental health concerns, detailed below.

Where can I go for extra support

Canine Comprehension sessions do not replace therapy or the work of a councillor, psychologist or physicist.  Our sessions may not be “enough” for their support needs.

If you remain concerned about your child’s wellbeing or if they have expressed that they feel sad, worried, disconnected, lonely or worthless, there are additional supports available to them and to you.

Do not feel bad or disappointed if your child wants to speak to someone other than you about how they are feeling.  Sometimes they might just want to speak to a person who doesn’t know them personally or who isn’t subjectively involved in their situation. 

We suggest:

Call Parentline and talk to an experienced counsellor, 7 days per week, 8am to midnight.

13 22 89

Parents of children aged 0-18 years

Invite your child to connect with Kids Helpline and speak confidently to a counsellor, 7 days per week, 8am to midnight. Kids Helpline also has some great tip sheets and information for parents.

Call 1800 55 1800

Webchat via www.kidshelpline.com.au 

Children and young people aged 5-25 years

Speak to your child’s school about your concerns and devise a strategy for responding together. 

Meet with someone from the Leadership Team or the nominated Welfare Personnel

Children and young people attending school

Engage in some free parenting coaching through ReachOut.com.  You can access up to four sessions to explore and enhance the relationship you have with your teen. 

https://parents.au.reachout.com/ 

Parents of young people aged 12-18 years

Reach out to headspace. They have centres all over Melbourne with drop-in services as well as an online and telephone service. This support is accessible for both young people and their family and friends. 

https://eheadspace.org.au

1800 650 890

Young people aged 12-25 years

Make a call to Child FIRST, a voluntary and preventative service that supports families to link into the services they need.  You can ring up and self-refer for any number of reasons (such as family conflict or pressures due to concerns of mental health, substance use, disability or bereavement). 

Banyule, Darebin, Whittlesea and Yarra: 9450 0955 

 

Moreland 1300 786 433


 

Parents of children and young people aged 0-17 years

You or your child can call Lifeline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the event of a mental health crisis or if experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

13 11 14 

People of all ages

Local council Youth Services offer generalist support to young people aged 12-25 in areas such as art, music, sport, education and training, drama and politics. Through group programs and events, young people are encouraged to connect with others and the things they care about, which promotes positive mental health. Encourage your child to visit the website for the youth centre in their local government area for details.

Inner city examples are: Banyule Youth Centre: 44 Turnham Avenue, Rosanna

 

Darebin Youth Centre: Northland Shopping Centre

 

Whittlesea (EDGE): Westfield Plenty Valley

 

Yarra Youth Centre: 156 Napier Street, Fitzroy

 

Moreland Youth Space:  4-8 Gaffney Street, Coburg North. 

Young people aged 12-25 years

What is your cancellation policy?

Individual private tutoring Cancellations

We understand that there are times when the young person must miss an appointment due to emergencies, COVID Isolation or other obligations.  

To avoid cancellation fees Canine Comprehension requires a minimum of 12 business hours notice.  It is the responsibility of the primary contact to inform Canine Comprehension of the cancellation  within this time window to avoid being charged.  Should the appointment not be cancelled within this time frame, full fees apply to the unused session. 

The client or representative must text 0421 490 188 and fill in the cancellation form to avoid being charged for the session.

If a young person is late to their scheduled appointment, the missed time will be forfeited. If a student arrives more than 30 minutes late the tutor is unable to begin that session.

Clients will be charged at the commencement of the session.

School program Cancellation

We expect the school to keep the scheduled appointment.  Sessions that fall on a public holiday will be made up at another time. 

Given 2 weeks notice for a cancellation of a session Canine Comprehension will endeavour to make up the session.  If Canine Comprehension is unable to make up the session the session will be forfeited.

The school contact must text 0421 490 188 if cancelling on the day of the session.  All other cancellations and fill in the cancellation form to avoid forfeiting the session.

Change of session.

We cannot guarantee that a change will be possible, this will depend on the tutors availability. If the change is possible the client will be charged a $22.00 flexi charge to cover administration costs.