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Insights from the Pet Professional Guild Australia 2024 Conference: Assistance Dogs

Content Warning: In this blog I write about mental health, trauma and PTSD. If you need urgent help then you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or attend your local Head To Health Centre or the nearest hospital. Otherwise, you can see your GP for a health care plan to get support from a psychologist, or a referral to a psychiatrist.

I haven’t posted a blog recently because I’ve been attending a lot of education and upskilling over the past month or so. Workshops and conferences give dog training professionals the opportunity to keep their skills up to date and learn new techniques. I recently attended the Pet Professional Guild Australia 2024 Conference, and I’m excited to share some fascinating insights about some of the presentations in upcoming blogs. One presentation that truly stood out focused on how dogs are helping veterans and first responders.

Dr Robert Hewings was one of the speakers whom I was really interested in hearing from and his talk on Assistance Dogs didn’t disappoint. Informative and confronting, it wasn’t for everyone, but it certainly gave me some new ideas about how to support clients towards a positive human/dog dyad.

The Power of the Human-Canine Bond

Dr Hewings, a former soldier and police officer turned assistance dog trainer, shared heartwarming stories about the incredible impact dogs can have on those struggling with PTSD. His insights reminded me just how powerful the bond between humans and dogs can be.

Understanding PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can affect anyone who has experienced severe trauma, not just military veterans. Some common symptoms include anxiety and hypervigilance in everyday situations; difficulty concentrating; persistent negative emotions; social withdrawal; and other debilitating symptoms that can be different for each person.

How Dogs Can Help

Specially trained Assistance Dogs can provide life-changing support for people with PTSD. While your pet may not be a certified assistance animal, many of these benefits can apply to the average pet dog as well. Dogs offer unconditional love and companionship, which can be incredibly comforting during tough times. Simply petting a dog can help reduce stress and anxiety. Caring for a dog provides structure and a sense of responsibility, which can be especially valuable for those struggling with their health. Plus, dogs can act as great icebreakers, helping their guardians engage more comfortably in social situations and get them out for regular walks (and playtime) which is beneficial for both physical and mental health.

Lessons for Pet Guardians

While our pets aren’t trained assistance animals, Dr Hewing’s presentation offered some valuable takeaways for all dog pawrents:

  • Consistency and predictability are key in building trust with your dog.
  • Dogs can pick up on our emotions, so managing our own stress is important. Has anyone heard me say “emotion is contagious”?
  • Positive reinforcement training methods build stronger bonds between dogs and their humans. The science backs this up. Don’t listen to the rhetoric from balanced trainers who are just trying to feather their own nest or stroke their own ego. They’ll offer you a quick fix and then leave you with a fearful, psychological or physically injured furkid.
  • Even simple tasks or tricks can give dogs a sense of purpose and boost their confidence. Give a dog a job or they may give themselves one you don’t like (barking, chewing, digging).

The conference reminded me of the incredible impact dogs can have on human lives. Whether you’re dealing with everyday stress or more significant challenges, your furry friend can be an amazing source of comfort and support.

The whole team at Little Angels Dog Training are committed to helping you build the strongest possible bond with your Fido.

I’m grateful to the Pet Professional Guild Australia for organising such an informative and thought-provoking conference. Stay tuned for more insights that I’ll be sharing from this event!

If you’re interested in learning more about how to enhance your relationship with your dog, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Game on! Let’s play!


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