Therapy Dogs for Attachment Disorder


In the Polish children’s homes or orphanages, a common problem is attachment disorder. This is a serious disability, which results in a life-long difficulty to keep a stable relationship. This can be one of the major reasons over 90% of children from the Polish orphanage system have relationship difficulties in their adult life. This can even lead to suicide.


While looking at children interacting with our dogs, we thought that working with dogs could help these children. Attachment is an extremely difficult concept to learn and teach cognitively. It is one of the causes for borderline personality disorder, and is one of the reasons borderline personality disorder is so difficult to treat.


To do attachment therapy with adults, a therapist needs many years of training and experience, and it is still difficult and exhausting for the therapist. Yet there are millions of uneducated and illiterate parents who are successfully doing attachment bonding with their own children. Anyone who has been attached as a child is competent to intuitively attach another person as long as they have a close bonding relationship. Why it is so difficult for a therapist is that in the clinical environment attachment is attempted without the vital bonding component.


This is where the dog comes in. To be successful attachment therapy needs to be experienced. Older children, also need to learn about attachment, so they understand what they are struggling with, but the experience is vital. To bond with another person the child needs first to develop trust in that person. That takes a long time, and can even be many years of intensive interaction.


With a dog it is different. If the dog is reliable and the child is not afraid of the dog, then trust is easily developed. We have studied how dogs are used for therapy with autistic children, and how we can use dogs as therapy dogs for treating reactive attachment disorder.


For almost 50 years specially trained dogs have been used in both clinical and family surroundings to help children with autism bond in social interaction and participate in everyday activities.


This therapy is called animal-assisted therapy and uses the dogs to act as a go-between, assisting children with autism to experience social engagement. The dog-child interaction is easier for children with autism than the more complex human interaction, enabling the children to communicate better and to be able to take part in everyday activities more fully.


Yet academics in psychology and sociology have been slow to study this form of practical therapy. This might be because there are so many different fields involved. These include anthropology, consciousness study, etiology, occupational science, philosophy, psychology and sociology.


Using dogs helps to develop communication as the primary communication is no longer through language, but by means of social behaviour and social interaction. No human language is logical; there are structures, exceptions and nuances that are difficult for an autistic child to understand.


If a child can develop socialisation through a dog, this might not reflect a child’s so-called “disability,” but rather our society’s inflexibility with people who are different. It indicates that socialisation is not a quality of the child’s character, but a capacity, which can be developed through certain kinds of socialisation interactions.


There are historical examples from legends to the “wolf children” found in Europe and India. Mowgli from the “Jungle Book” and the story of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome are two examples of legends. In the 1700s two boys were found, one in Germany, the other in France, who had been living with wolves. They had possibly been abandoned by their parents because of autism. They seemed to have the “symptoms” of autism.


We have two puppies that we are raising for this purpose. Their parents have good character, are gentle, non-aggressive and reliable with children. We are training these puppies, Czarus (Charmer in Polish) and Tosha, to be calm in all situations, and to be calm and gentle with children.


They are being trained through body language, without leash or the normal obedience training. They are trained through our bonding relationship with them.


This is so that the children will not be able to control the dogs by command. These children get very excited when they can command a dog. Children with attachment disorder tend to project their feelings and demand, which is why commanding an obedient dog, is such fun. This we need to avoid.


We will after all be teaching bonding relationships. The children need to experience two way social communications. They need to be forced to interact with the dog from the dog’s perspective, not their own. The activities they will do will be based on agility and dog dancing which means plenty of physical activity to keep the children’s attention.


We are praying that where humans have failed these children, therapy dogs can save.


Agape Trust needs support to be able to help those young mothers and social orphans we are in contact with.




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An adoptive father’s lessons learned about Attachment Disorder





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