Social Skills with Animal-Assisted Intervention

“Do you think Zooey wants to play with the ball or the toilet paper roll?”

I met my first therapy dog when I was volunteering at the New Mexico Preschool for the Deaf – the dog was named Jackson and he belonged to one of the audiologists at the preschool. This started my interest in using a therapy dog in my future treatment.

To learn the basics about therapy dogs and animal-assisted intervention in speech-language pathology visit my original post here.

Once you have the basics you can start thinking about using AAI for social skills.

Most kids start greeting Zooey before they start greeting me. It’s an interesting example of dogs being helpful for kids with social struggles. Once kids get the hang of following my eye gaze I can use Zooey as the target. For this I have Zooey stay while the kids (or their parent) hide their eyes and I hide a treat. The child then has to follow Zooey’s eye gaze to find the treat.

When working on the Zones of Regulation we can talk about dogs’ different zones and use pictures to add to my Zones poster. We can also talk about what to do when a dog is in each zone, which is mostly “stay away from an unfamiliar dog who is not in the green zone.”

When working on Theory of Mind skills Zooey is a great example for having unexpected likes/dislikes. For example, Zooey has no interest in regular dog toys, but loves toilet paper rolls. Since this is unexpected for lots of kids I can bring out a ball and a toilet paper roll and help the child tune into Zooey’s eye gaze to see that she’s not actually interested in the ball (like all the children think she will be) – she wants the toilet paper roll!

Zooey also helps kids learn about the more advanced Theory of Mind of understanding what others can/cannot see. For this activity I have kids hide a treat under a color sorting bowl while Zooey watches, then hide Zooey’s eyes while the child moves the treat. When Zooey goes to the original bowl to get the treat we talk about how Zooey couldn’t see us move the treat so she didn’t know where it was. This activity also works for the even more advanced Theory of Mind skill of false beliefs. For this we talk about how Zooey thinks the treat is still under the first bowl so she’ll look under there and we can even have more than 2 bowls out and talk about how we can point to the new bowl the treat is hidden under to influence her to look under it instead of the first bowl.

Here are some more ideas for targeting social skills.

And here are some more ideas for using AAI in speech & language treatment.

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