Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) is the broad term to describe goal-oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education, and human service for therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. AAI leads to enhanced physical, social and emotional wellbeing based on reward, emotion, and affiliation. The reaction stems from the oxytocin system (that both humans and animals possess) which assists in forming bonds, trust, and positive emotions. It is said that even just simply petting a dog can release this hormone for both the person and dog!
Within AAI there are three different types of practices: animal-assisted therapy, animal-assisted activities, and animal assisted-education. Here at The Underdog Project, we use animal-assisted activities (AAA) and animal-assisted education (AAE). These two practices focus on incorporating animals to enhance an individual or group’s education (academic goals, prosocial skills, and cognitive functioning), motivation, or quality of life. Whereas animal-assisted therapy (AAT), focuses on meeting specific criteria in a treatment process. Specifically using AAA and AAE is why we are able to achieve our mission of helping youth and dogs. We believe in the mutual relationships between the youth and dogs, benefiting both parties in the programme. We want both the youth and the dogs taking part to succeed- not one over the other.
Recently one of our youth brought a friend to a weekly session. Arriving earlier than the others, our student explained to his friend how everything worked at The Underdog Project and went on to discuss the educational posters around the classroom. When it came time to work with the dogs, the friend knew how to do some of the tricks already. When asked if he had been to training before he said he hadn’t but our student has been showing him what to do while training with his own dog at home. This kind of sharing with friends, family, and the community is exactly what we hope to accomplish with our mission!
The success on the dog’s end of AAA and AAE is also just as important. Two different volunteers at one of the shelters came to us (at separate times) and were amazed at how well the dogs were doing tricks and behaving when on an outing outside the shelter. The dogs were taken to a local school where they socilised and engaged beautifully with the children. The two volunteers praised the work of The Underdog Project, emphasising how much it has helped these dogs. Little did these volunteers know how much their statements would mean to us and our programme, personally backing the research behind why we use AAA and AAE.
We are privileged to see our youth and dogs excel in the program with the use of AAI, especially when we get to see the impact stem outside our little community and into daily life. If you would like to to learn more about AAI and its positive impact beyond The Underdog Project check out these sources below!
Individual & Communal Benefits: