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.
What is AAT?
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.
In Animal-Assisted Therapy, the therapist will identify the therapeutic or clinical goals, and use the animal to help them achieve these goals – the Delta Society (USA) defines AAT as goal directed interactions with clearly defined and measurable outcomes. This distinguishes AAT from the less structured Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA).
In both cases therapy animals interact with people to produce positive outcomes, however in Animal-Assisted Activities the role of the animal is less defined and so is the outcome.
Whilst AAT will have prescribed therapeutic outcomes, AAA may simply aim to achieve a positive environment or help an individual to feel good. This means that Animal-Assisted Activities or AAA do not necessarily need to be overseen by a professional.
Visiting a nursing home as a volunteer for example, may be defined as Animal-Assisted Activities or AAA’s, whereas running a social skills programme for at-risk youth may be considered Animal-Assisted Therapy or AAT. There is also 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).”
What is Dog Assisted Learning?
Some children have a hard time at school and can struggle with their learning and friendships as a result. Canine Comprehension support students in understanding their learning process better. A well-trained dog and a tutor will work with an individual or a group throughout a term. Through weekly attendance young people 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.
Our focus is to:
- Help them discuss their worries around learning
- Learn more about possible triggers
- Learn strategies and develop confidence in managing them
- Practice mindfulness techniques
- Assist young people develop interpersonal and social skills, manage their own emotions and develop empathy for others, enabling better connections in their learning environment.
What are your qualifications and experience?
Our Director, Sarah holds a Bachelor as well as a Masters in Teaching. Sarah writes all of the curriculum and pedagogy documents used in our programs. She also consults closely with the tutors on educational and classroom management issues.
The Canine Comprehension team is a wealth of knowledge and invested in life-long learning. We aim to employ from a broad range of educational and social justice backgrounds, such as teachers, social workers, occupational therapists, nursing, counsellors, school administrators. Our tutors have experience working with young people with various needs and enjoy the challenge of helping a struggling learner connect with their education. Please see our ‘meet us page’ to learn more about each tutor.
All of our Tutor / AAI dog teams have the highest certifications of Animal Assisted Therapy available in Australia. Most are trained through Lead the Way Institute and are reassessed annually to maintain certification. The tutors also have access to dog trainers, who can help them with improving manners, trick training and specific behavior with their working dog.
All of our Tutors hold a current drivers licence, Working With Childrens Check and First Aid certificate.
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 a young person?
Teachers, parents or caseworkers have referred students who:
- Worry or show signs of anxiety (especially if this impacts on their engagement will school/curriculum/peers and/or if it impacts on their attendance).
- Have difficulty regulating their emotions
- Have difficulty with social interaction
An eight-week program or tutoring with Canine Comprehension, may not be “enough” for their support needs. If you remain concerned about your young person’s wellbeing you are welcome to continue tutoring and look into the other services we offer to support their education. If they have expressed that they feel sad, worried, disconnected, lonely or worthless, there are additional supports available to them and to you. Canine Comprehension does not position themselves in place of a counsellor or psychologist, however we often work alongside them,
Contact us to begin the referral process and together we can look at support from a wholistic approach
What do the AAI dogs do in schools or tutoring sessions?
The dogs have many jobs. Their main goal is to assist young people in calming, 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.
What is the evidence for using a AAI Dog?
Just petting a dog can reduce the petters blood pressure and heart rate (Get Healthy, Get a Dog, Harvard Medical School) and having a pet dog in the home was associated with a decreased probability of childhood anxiety (Gadomski AM, Scribani MB, Krupa N, Jenkins P, Nagykaldi Z, Olson AL. Pet Dogs and Children’s Health: Opportunities for Chronic Disease Prevention).
For kids with anxiety and school refusal the use of the therapy dog as social lubricant cannot be denied (Menzies, 2003; Kogan, Granger, Gitchett, Helmer & Young, 1999; Baker, Pandurangi; Best, 2003). There are numerous studies citing the benefit of being with a dog, they show that having a dog present will increase a persons likelihood of having positive social interactions with others. (Mallon, 1994; Hart, 2000) Studies where kids are able to take the dog for short walks (Fine, 2000) show improved therapeutic outcomes for clients.
Studies have shown that learnings and effects from these AAIs can last well into 12 months after the client has worked with the dog (Barker et. al, 2003). Hanselman (2001) recommends that group interventions with your people should consist of at least10 sessions to make sustained behaviour change. Kogan, Granger, Fitchett, Helmer & Young, 1999 report that dog training intervention (just like the courses we run) resulted in improved pro social behaviour such as eye contact, smiling and posture and a reduction in negative behaviours.
Canine Comprehension also has their own independently collated research by School Focused Youth Service. You can find a copy here.
Why use dogs at all?
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 relationship 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 AAI dogs are used as part of the process of helping a young person trust their tutor, calm and smile during sessions.
There have been many studies on the value of Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI's) in areas of therapy. AAI's in therapy have indicated a range of benefits such as anxiety reduction, improved rapport, and communication of clients.
Dogs also serve as a catalyst for learning due to being an effective motivator, aiding in improving a positive learning environment and reduces the stress levels of students.
Sarah, Founder and Director saw an opportunity to use her teaching and dog training skills to become a better tutor. By initially having her certified AAI dogs Minnie and Oscar along, the lesson instantly becomes more interesting, memorable, comfortable and fun. - All of the things a teacher hopes to achieve with their lessons.
From there Canine Comprehension grew so more students could get the benefit of our supportive services.
What if my child has allergies (or other health issues)?
Health concerns are taken very seriously at Canine Comprehension. Before commencement Canine Comprehension liaises with the guardian, teacher or school nurse so we 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 even leave the room.
We ask all participants to submit a medical form, which is help in confidence.
To limit allergens, dogs are washed the night before a visit. Their teeth brushed and their claws filed. They are also wiped down with baby wipes before, during and after a visit.
When the dogs are not interacting, they are laying down on a special mat, to avoid loose dog hair dropping on the floor.
What if a child is afraid of dogs?
At Canine Comprehension we pride ourselves on our approachability and dedication to inclusive classrooms. If a child is afraid of dogs we will calmly work on that fear at a pace the child feels comfortable with. Please let us know if a student involved with us may be afraid of dogs and the depth of that fear. We could 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 previous fear with dogs has accepted our AAI dog due to their calm nature and high quality training.
What precautions are taken to avoid the transmission of Zoonosis?
Zoonosis are diseases that can be communicated between animal and human.
The dogs are health checked by a vet regularly and are up to date with worm and flea treatments as well as all their vaccinations, including kennel cough.
One of the protocols Canine Comprehension insists on when meeting a dog is making sure clients wash their hands with soap after a visit. We find this is a good opportunity to teach and reinforce proper hand washing techniques with the younger ones.
Dogs are trained to avoid toileting at work. If, however, there is an ‘accident’ , faeces are removed in accordance with council requirements and the spot disinfected straight away.
Is that a muzzle your dog is wearing?
No, it's a Black Dog Halter. The halter allows you to communicate clearly with the dog without having to pull on their throat. The dynamic design allows the Halter to move as the dog moves, leaving the Nose Bridge strap to sit comfortably in the same position. The dog can still open their mouth. It's a positive training device, not a muzzle. All the dogs are friendly, they do not wear muzzles and have been temperament tested in many situations.
How do I get my dog certified?
Canine Comprehension does not train or certify dogs for the public. The institution that we highly recommend is Lead the Way Institute.
Lead The Way Institute is an Australian first in training opportunities. They offer Certificates in Animal-Assisted Interventions (Canine) and Animal-Assisted Therapy, Animal-Assisted Education, or Animal-Assisted Activities Co-Ordination. See their Website for more information.
Canine Comprehension is coming to my school, do I need to prepare in any way?
Please make sure there is a parking space as close as possible to the area where we will be working and email Sarah the parking details. One of our tutors will bring everything the AAI dogs may need. You will need to direct them to a tap to fill up the dog's water bowl. The dogs are house trained. Please let the tutor know of an appropriate area where the dogs may relieve themselves. All animal waste will be disposed of.
Inform the entire staff that Canine Comprehension and AAI dogs will be at your school. The dog's will be identified by their working harnesses, and staff by their uniform. Let your staff know that these specifically trained dogs are up to date with their vaccinations and health checks and medical records. The dogs are groomed everyday and washed weekly when working. The dogs will be controlled by a leash, command or crate. The dogs are not to be fed or patted unless allowed by the handler.
The wishes of individuals who do not want to interact with the dogs will be respected and the dogs will be controlled by the handler with this in mind.
Sessions that involve the AAI dogs will be documented in weekly progress notes. The tutor will document all interactions in the session.
Is Canine Comprehension available during the school holidays?
Yes! Our day length holiday programs, lead by our tutors and AAI dogs ensure that our activities focus on: emotional literacy, self care, confidence & communication.
Day length holiday programs lead by our tutors and therapy dogs ensure that our activities focus on emotional literacy, self care, confidence and communication, giving them the attention they deserve.
Each day will consist of:
- Dog Agility: Planning, communication & persistence skills.
- Puppy Kitchen: Working with others & coping with time frames.
- Just add dog: Mindfulness, skills to stay calm, focused & relaxed.
- Best Dressed Doggy: Reading body language & encouraging others.
Welcome to attend BOTH days. Tutors, therapy dogs & challenges will vary each day. For more information see our Holiday Programs, next term dates are usually announced a month before the next holiday break.
How can I avoid cancellations with Canine Comprehension?
We believe in the importance of routine in a young persons life. A way we can support routine is to make sure the 8 week program runs smoothly every week with no cancellations. We ask that you please take a look at your school calendar now and see if there are any pending calendar clashes. If your school needs to cancel or reschedule a session please let us know ASAP Please provide other options for that week for the tutor to make the class up. We will do our best to accommodate.
Routines help to minimise disruptive behavior by constantly giving students something to do. If students know what is expected of them at the same time each week, they will be more likely to attend and follow through with tasks rather than invent their own less-constructive activities. At times schools feel they have to cancel due to a calendar clash, a school incursion or other commitment. We ask you to prioritise these sessions for your students, they are expensive and difficult to re-book.
How do I avoid cancellation fees when cancelling Individual Tutoring?
We understand that there are times when the young person must miss an appointment due to emergencies or other obligations.
To avoid cancellation fees Canine Comprehension requires a minimum of 12 hours notice. It is the responsibility of the agency representing the client to contact Canine Comprehension 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 email firstname.lastname@example.org with 12 or more hours notice.
The client will receive an email confirming the cancellation has been received. We will endeavour to reschedule during that same week where possible. If 12 hours notice is not given the session will be forfeited.
For Canine Comprehension to be able to build a trusting relationship with our clients and provide maximum benefit from our sessions our bookings are ongoing. A client will need to submit a cancellation of ongoing services email to email@example.com. This must be done 5 days prior to the cancellation of ongoing services.
If a client wishes to re engage with our services they will be placed on our waiting list, which is subject to tutor availability. We cannot promise that tutoring will commence straight away or be allocated the same time and day previously scheduled.
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 service, unless otherwise agreed.
When are permission forms due?
Canine Comprehension need the guardian and medical permission forms signed and returned to the tutor as soon as the first session starts.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 has signed the forms). Please let your Canine Comprehension Tutor know.
If you have misplaced the forms, click here to download a copies of these forms.
Where can I go for extra support?
Canine Comprehension recognises that a stable home life is vital to help our students thrive. Which is why we would like to offer your guardians some support as well. I have attached a document outlining their child’s progress in school programs and what they should expect to encounter during the program. We have also outlined outside professionals and bodies that may be able to support your families.
Please feel free to download the letter here and email the PDF to parents, or print and give to your students to take home.