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A Newbie’s Perspective on Social Therapy

 In Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy, News, PPH Blog, PPH San Diego, Service Dog Training, Service Dogs, Training

Having positive interactions with others is an extremely important factor when considering an individual’s mental health and well-being. Struggling with relationships in school, on the job, or in the family is an obstacle that many face – and when those obstacles are accompanied by any physical or cognitive challenges, those difficulties can only prove to be harder. That is why social therapy and the benefits it provides can be so integral to those that are experiencing different social issues. It can help with developing friendships with others, reduce feelings of stress or anxiety, and enhance self-regulation and coping skills.

When accompanying our trainers and dogs for the first time to the Veterans Village of San Diego in early August, it was amazing to witness those benefits being provided first-hand. Serving all Veterans since 1981, the Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) is dedicated to its core motto: “Leave No One Behind.” For forty years, VVSD has stood by that saying and given services and support to our nation’s heroes. One of those services is what Paws for Purple Hearts provides – social therapy.

Reid and Arri at Social Therapy
Reid and Arri at Social Therapy

Like many, and as a newcomer to Paws for Purple Hearts, I had previously viewed social therapy as a one-on-one or group setting. I had an idea that participants would come in, divulge information about themselves while others listened, and then the subject would quickly move on to the next person.

It was immediately apparent how wrong I was after the first few people filtered in and the instant impact that the dogs seemed to provide. For this particular social therapy session, the trainers had decided to bring Arrillaga, Reid, and our new puppy, LeMay. At just three months old, it was a great opportunity for LeMay to get socialized with new people and environments while helping those Veterans and service members at VVSD get comfort.

LeMay’s First Social Therapy Session
LeMay’s First Social Therapy Session

Arri, sitting comfortably at the door, easily attracted any passersby to come inside and sit down. Like with any person, entering into a new environment with different people (and animals!) can produce feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and stress. When ready, it was amazing to watch the faces of the Veterans and how those feelings seemed to dissipate as Reid or Arri walked over and leaned up against them with their full body weight. Naturally, and to the enjoyment of the dogs, they would start petting and scratching them all over. As they became more comfortable, the conversations became more comfortable, too. Discussions and participation felt encouraged, but not forced. Nearly all, at one point, would notice LeMay sprawled out lazily on the cold floor and ask to pet her (to which she readily obliged!). Some even decided to lie down on the ground with the dogs themselves and relax as they nuzzled up against them.

LeMay Snoozing at Veterans Village of San Diego
LeMay Snoozing at Veterans Village of San Diego

As an outsider, coming with the trainers and our dogs to a social therapy session was a unique and wonderful experience. To be able to go to VVSD and see first-hand how social therapy works and the immediate relief that it provided was eye-opening. Seeing others that have possibly faced all different kinds of difficulties, hurdles, and struggles take a little time out of their day to sit back and relax helped me understand the essential benefits of social therapy and the impact that our PPH dogs have on others.

We would also like to extend a massive thank-you to the Veterans Village of San Diego for their generosity in providing us with the facilities necessary to conduct our social therapy sessions. Because of you and the numerous Veterans that came to participate, our Service Dogs-in-training were introduced to different training methods and scenarios that help prepare them for their lifelong careers as Service Dogs.

Assisting Warriors like these was made possible by the generosity of our supporters. If you would like to support Paws for Purple Hearts and our mission of improving the lives of America’s Warriors, you can do so by volunteering, through monetary donations, or by spreading the word about our cause to those that are interested!

Looking to help our cause? We couldn’t do what we do without our supporters! Please consider helping us spread the word about our mission to your community. Your support allows us to continue to fulfill our mission in helping Veterans and Active Duty Service Members. By simply helping us get the word out there, you are helping us to continue to fulfill our mission. Please also consider a monetary donation or donating from our Amazon Wishlist to help our cause.

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