By Maxence Gorregues
This is a first in the agglomeration of Caen (Calvados), and its benefits were palpable from the first meetings. Since May 23, 2022, Marine Chesnais, speech therapist at Gibervilleeast of Caen, now welcomes his patients in the company of his dog, Shaman. This 6-month-old Miniature American Shepherd has a well-defined role in the professional’s therapeutic practices.
From now on, voluntary patients will be able to benefit from his help: “The interest of the interaction with a trained dog is to facilitate or accelerate the treatment”, explains Lilou Brun, specialist in animal-assisted therapy. .
The dog facilitates the work of memory, naming, writing, because it stimulates, it values and does not judge. The positive emotion felt by the patient promotes the success of the exercises in a climate of trust.
The fruit of several months of work
This novelty is the result of several months of work and reflection with Lilou Brun, head of the Happy with dogs association. She is currently preparing a university degree in clinical neuropsychology at the University of Caen.
Gradually, in recent months, it was first Lulu, an already trained and experienced dog, who made it possible to test the effects on patients. A first step which also made it possible to confirm the motivation of the speech therapist.
Lilou Brun then trained her, as she can do with other health professionals, with psychologists in particular. “I quickly realized that the animal could create favorable working conditions with the patient, assures Marine Chesnais. I then did not hesitate to continue the experiment and to go further. Many sessions, both inside and outside the firm, were carried out with tailor-made support.
Conditions that promote self-confidence
If activities involving animals to promote the well-being of participants, generally in the context of collective sessions, such as in accommodation establishments for dependent elderly people (Ehpad) or medical-educational institutes (IME), have become common , they are much less so in the therapeutic context. “If only by its presence, the animal creates favorable conditions to achieve a therapeutic objective,” explains Lilou Brun. It allows us to achieve a goal that we could not achieve without it, or at least it serves as an accelerator. »
As part of her work as a speech therapist, Marine Chesnais aims to prevent, assess and treat language difficulties or disorders, both orally and in writing. In children, as in adults. “And a one-on-one with an adult speech therapist alone is not the same as with a professional accompanied by a dog, adds Lilou Brun. The spontaneity in the exchanges appears more quickly, by the simple fact that the dog quickly becomes a subject of discussion. “Free speech in a speech therapist’s office, it’s precious…
The well-being of the patient and… of the animal
The two women notably designed exercises involving Shaman, based on a card game. The patient is asked to arrange them in a double-entry table, depending on the position of the animal on the image, and where it is. “Beyond the cognitive work that we carry out during this exercise, the patient is invited to give instructions to the dog. Everything is more concrete. The exercise is all the more effective when, when the dog performs, the patient’s self-confidence is boosted, especially in children.
It helps anchor success in the patient. Here again, we realize that the animal has created an environment conducive to therapeutic work.
The two women remind us that the dog is not imposed on anyone. The session in his presence is done on a voluntary basis. Also, the welfare of the animal is at the heart of the project. “It all started with our desire, with my companion and our children, to have a dog. And it was out of the question to leave him alone at home all day on weekdays. When I discovered animal-assisted therapy and what Happy With Dogs offered, I decided to entrust Lilou Brun with the choice and training of my future dog. »
An evolutionary support
Lilou Brun guarantees the well-being of the dog. “I give keys to the masters I accompany so that they can quickly detect the signs of stress in the animal, and so that they react accordingly. I also teach them to adopt the right behavior, at the physical level, vis-à-vis the dog when they are in their office. »
She herself selects the dogs that can qualify for this type of activity, from breeders with whom she works regularly. She detects within a litter, dogs that are too sure of themselves, exuberant and who would therefore find it difficult to flourish in the context of a cabinet.
To make a good mediator dog, you need good genetic origins for behavioral balance and health, natural aptitudes, very early education to orient towards a type of behavior, then specific training with coding so that the dog realizes instructions on request. It is a rare alchemy, a long and meticulous work.
The health aspect is not eluded. All animals are vaccinated, dewormed and professionally groomed every three months. They also received antiparasitic treatment. “I guarantee the recovery of the puppy in case of failure. We work with living things, and we can therefore make mistakes,” says Lilou Brun. She estimates that trained dogs are trained after 18 months, while starting them earlier, as is the case with Shaman. The experience feeds his learning, and that of the healthcare professional. Each day brings its share of new observations and ideas, valuable for the trio, and for the therapists called upon to call on an animal in the future.
Practice. Association Happy with dogs, tel. 06 37 49 61 49
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Shaman, the dog that helps healthcare professionals and patients during consultations
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