How Dogs Can Help Children With Crisis

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Most people don’t need to be reminded, having a pet around can really make you feel good inside.

Risë VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC

Risë VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC

And, when you are dealing with an emotional crisis, that pet can play an important healing role.

After the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, I spoke with Risë VanFleet, Ph.D., RPT-S, CDBC, a child/family psychologist who is respected internationally for her innovative approaches in Animal Assisted Play Therapy.

I wanted to share some tips with parents on how their dogs can benefit their children in the healing process after an intense crisis such as what our nation witnessed this past weekend when innocent lives where senselessly taken too soon.


  1. *If* your dog enjoys being petted *and* is quiet…when your family is talking about what is going on, have your dog close to your kids. It only takes a few minutes of petting a dog (or cat for that matter) for their bodies to go through physical changes, releasing positive neurotransmitters.
  2. Encourage your kids to go play with your dog WITH supervision to ensure safe playing that fosters a positive relationship. This play helps give kids back a sense of normalcy, and helps them to cut loose of the seriousness with some necessary relief.
  3. If your children already have a routine with your pet such as taking it for a walk, do not change that. Again, normalcy is important in the healing process.
  4. Teach your kids how to teach your dog simple behaviors. Why is this important? After a trauma people have a tendency to feel helpless and void of control in their environment. Teaching and getting that positive feedback from their dog – a living animal – can give kids a predictably good outcome. Your child can feel like, “I did something to make my dog pay attention to me.”
  5. Lastly, you can use dog or pet examples to help kids understand. Some great books for kids with important lessons include:

   ‘Brave Bart’ – about a cat who, when something scary happened, was helped by another cat.

I also highly recommend books from the Gryphon Press. Please click here to see their catalogue.






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