You might have seen or heard about service dogs working in schools, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and courtrooms. But what exactly do they do?
Facility dogs work with professionals in numerous settings, have many important jobs, and can help people individually or in a group. They’re in the room to provide joy and support, but facility dogs also provide many more services to students, patients, or clients!
Keep reading to learn many of the things a facility dog can do to help people overcome challenges.
Specifically in classroom settings, facility dogs are trained to model appropriate behaviors. For example, the dog can be trained to pick up toys and drop them in a toy box, walk quietly in the hallway, and have their teeth and fur brushed daily.
These small things are great in encouraging students to follow the example set by the facility dog and to practice appropriate behaviors and good hygiene. This service is also great in motivating patients to mirror behaviors in order to build strength and mobility during physical therapy or other medical treatments.
In addition to learning the same skills as any other ICAN service dog, many facility dogs are trained to aid students, clients, or patients with interrupting crying or distress.
Many times, once the facility dog hears a person crying or experiencing emotional distress, the dog will go over and nudge the person with their nose. The dog may also push their nose between the person’s hands if the hands are covering the face to encourage the person to pet the facility dog instead. This behavior is helpful in calming and redirecting a person from the stressor in order to get focus back on the task.
Another way that ICAN facility dogs can aid with emotional distress is with deep pressure therapy (DPT). DPT is used to relax and encourage calmness in an individual by applying firm pressure to the body via the dog resting its head or front legs in the person’s lap. ICAN facility dogs are able to provide this task to individuals by performing specialized cues when asked.
Both crying interruptions and DPT can be used in many different settings from individuals in courtrooms having to recall traumatic and upsetting events to students in a classroom setting having difficulty regulating their emotions.
Another special behavior that ICAN facility dogs can do is read cue cards. For this task, a student or client will hold up a card with a cue word on it, such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’. The dog will then read this cue card and do the behavior.
This activity requires the student or client to first be able to use fine motor skills to hold up a cue card and then be able to read the word on the card to ensure the dog is doing the correct behavior. This is especially helpful to students who are learning to read or need incentive to partake in learning activities.
Many facility dogs in schools also have personal mailboxes where students are able to write letters to the dog—and many are available to lend a furry ear for students practicing reading aloud! While these tasks don’t require a lot of training, the simple presence of a facility dog is great motivation for students to practice reading, writing, and other subjects.
Each facility dog can be trained to perform nearly any behavior the handler sees as useful, including a variety of motor skills games!
For example, ICAN facility dogs are taught to nudge a ball back and forth with another person as well as the cue ‘find toy,’ where the dog is able to seek out a designated toy that has been hidden by a patient or child. The ‘find toy’ activity helps with motor skills and strength building as a person is required to move by walking or using a mobility aid to a location to hide the toy. Then the person must place the toy for the dog to find, which uses various movements such as bending and reaching.
Facility dogs may also be taught to hold positions so that a patient can push the dog on a moving cart, or they may be trained to navigate an obstacle course so that the person can see what tasks are supposed to be performed. All of these behaviors are helpful in motivating a person to build the strength and motor skills needed to complete the activities.
Facility dogs have the important and unique job of helping many different people overcome challenges in schools, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and courtrooms. These are just a few of the ways that facility dogs are able to help others by breaking barriers and giving unconditional love!
ICAN trains and places assistance dogs with individuals in Indiana who have disabilities and provides foundational life skills to inmates through their experience as trainers. To learn more, visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.