Dog obedience training for physically disabled children blends physical therapy activities with social and psychological concerns. Unlike other modes of therapy this activity takes place in the child’s familiar environment along with other children, dogs, and adults, emphasizing the normality of the disabled child rather than the differences. Too often the disabled child is treated in a distorted manner, as though the disability were the child rather than only one aspect of the child. Participation in the common activity of dog training helps the child perceive him/herself in an integrated fashion.
Disabled children can become the perpetual recipient of others decisions and continue this pattern into adulthood. While this passive attitude may be comfortable for the parent, this non-assertive posture will hinder economic and mental independence. In dog training the child moves into a position of leadership and control. The child makes decisions that affect not only him/herself but the dog as well. By becoming an active participant rather than a passive observer, the child develops decision making skills and experiences the consequences of those decisions.
Children execute physical therapy techniques during actual training. Body postures and exercises to physically aid the child are incorporated into dog training’s multi-faceted approach.
Dog training is intrinsically filled with mishaps and mistakes. As the child learns the new role of teacher the dog is learning a new role as pupil! Their frequent errors are an unavoidable and natural part of training, and are treated with humor, patience, persistence, and a hug. Through observation and example, the child learns that when mistakes are made love is not lessened or approval withdrawn.
Group participation and social skills are learned in dog training class. In addition to encouraging individual accomplishments, class activities are created to stimulate cooperative attitudes.
Children have the opportunity to compete in dog shows with their trained pet. Competition in these areas place the child on equal terms with non-disabled peers, as the emphasis is placed on the dog’s performance rather than the limitations of the child.
Dog obedience training offers a rich sampling of life skills and experiences for the disabled child. Building a relationship with an animal based on mutual activity that brings tangible results increases the child’s self-esteem and confidence as it opens and extends personal horizons.