The Power of Pets

October 26, 2020
The Power of Pets

This article is written by our Speech Pathologist Genevieve Ward.

“Can Lincoln come and listen to me?” said one of my little client’s learning to say his ‘L’ words.  I replied, “Yes, what a fabulous idea. In fact, Lincoln told me how much he loves listening to you talk. Do you think it would be okay if he lets us know if he hears a ‘L’ or a ‘W’ sound by raising his left or right paw?” The child eagerly agreed and off we went chitter chattering about lollies, lego, ladybugs and lions with Lincoln front and centre on the screen guiding the child. The power of pets. 

Lincoln is my 5 month old mini Groodle.  I have seen first-hand in many of my sessions whilst working from home my clients engaging with therapy differently and perhaps even more richly when Lincoln is included. He is the star of the show. I often find myself providing therapy by talking through him and boy does he have a big personality. He is my secret therapy transmitter device. It has been unbelievable to witness what the child will be willing to do or talk about if it is to Lincoln. I take no offence but rather put it down to……the power of pets. 

This recent discovery, has sparked a keen interest in how powerful our pets can be in making the impawsible completely pawsible for our children who have developmental difficulties! Lincoln’s non-judgmental, loving nature gives our therapy its magic and helps the child to relax, open up, try harder and have fun! It is also super cute to be a part of.  

According to a recent survey there are more than 24 million pets in Australia today. At 62%, Australia continues to have one of the highest household rates of pet ownership in the world.   

This means many of our families have their own hidden therapy assistant already in their home perhaps sleeping on their couch or digging out in the garden bed. I wonder if we tapped into this hidden gem with our children how much more we could get out of therapy.  

A number of studies have looked into the relationship between pets and companion animals and their influence on children’s health and development. Pets are believed to facilitate increased levels of exercise which we know helps with a child’s arousal and regulation levels. Further benefits suggest our pawesome pets can assist our children’s social and emotional development. The power of pets! 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported in recent study outcomes that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners.  

Some more health benefits of having a pet include: 

  • Decreased blood pressure 
  • Decreased cholesterol levels 
  • Decreased triglyceride levels 
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness 
  • Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities 
  • Increased opportunities for socialization 

The pawsitive health benefits of having a pet are extensive. Certainly, from a therapy perspective I have witnessed first-hand the magic of having Lincoln involved in the therapy irrespective of the child’s age or domain of difficulty. Lincoln has a colourful and playful personality and the children have learned all about his interests, likes/dislikes, dreams, even down to his favourite animal movie (‘Babe’ of course). By including Lincoln the shy child can direct the spot light onto him but still engage in the therapy. For the more extroverted child, Lincoln helps to shape their conversation skills, taking turns, asking questions. For the child who doesn’t like getting things wrong or being corrected by an adult they mysteriously welcome Lincoln’s feedback and corrections! The power of pets! 

Some ideas to unlock the power of your pets: 

  • Include them in pretend play as a key character to tell a narrative 
  • Include them as part of your child’s reading routine. Can your pet sit beside them and listen along? 
  • Can your child teach your beloved furry friend a new concept such as explaining how to use pronouns? e.g. girl/she, boy/he 
  • When your child is dysregulated can they share their worries with their pet? What advice would the pet give to the child?  
  • Unlock your child’s perspective (theory of mind) by asking them to imagine what their pet would think about that. 
  • When practicing spelling or writing tasks can they proofread it with their four legged friend? 
  • When understanding directions can they include your pet? E.g. first touch Lincoln’s head, next touch his ear and last get a lick from him. 

We would love to hear how you go tapping into the power of your own pets. If you don’t happen to own a pet don’t despair, ask your clinician working from home if they have one. Then, sit back and watch the fireworks, language and confidence explode from your child whilst getting to know the animal and its charming personality.  

Signing off with lots of licks and laughs, Gen & Lincoln