Selective Mutism and Therapeutic Dog Training - trci
Selective Mutism and Therapeutic Dog Training

A very characteristic expressions of anxiety in kids, is selective mutism – a situation in which a

child is unable to speak and communicate effectively in certain social settings. Why does this

happen and how can this be treated using canine assisted therapy?

What is Selective Mutism?

Selective Mutism is a phenomenon where a child who is capable of normal speech, doesn’t talk

for a month or more in social situations where he is expected to speak, such as at school or in the

company of adults. This disorder harms not only their social communication with their peers, but

also their academic achievements. Selective mutism is associated with social anxiety, when the

only communication that a child or a teenager has with his peers is through the computer or the

cellular phone. In this way children can lose their ability to read facial expressions, body

language and social codes.

Therapeutic dog training

The method of therapeutic dog training on the ranch, is based on the canine assisted therapy used

abroad. This model focuses on empowering the existing abilities of a child with the help of the

dog and the therapist. The child projects his difficulties onto the dog, saying for example, that the

dog is sad, when he himself feels sadness, and thereby manages to create a significant

relationship whereby he has control of the connection. The non judgmental therapeutic

environment enables the patient to feel confident and allows him to express himself and thereby

empowers the process of reversed roles between the patient and the dog, where the patient

becomes the therapist.

Today, the Center treats over 3000 children a year using Therapeutic Dog Training, amongst

them children who are dealing with many different difficulties, including attention disorders,

autism, social anxieties etc. All of the therapists at the ranch are graduates of the professional

course for Canine Assisted Therapy.

Case Studies – Dealing with Selective Mutsim with the help of Canine Assisted Therapy

Liat Sharon is a senior instructor at the center and intern coordinator for the Center’s Therapeutic

Dog Trainers. She tells the story of Sela (a fictitious name), who arrived at the Center for

therapy. “Sela arrived at the Center at the age of five, with a diagnosis of Selective Mutism for a

year. His parents talked about a charming and sensitive child who suffers from terrible social

anxiety. The parents expressed concern regarding the transfer to first grade, and how he would

handle the system and the companionship of the children. Before the first session, we went

together to choose the dog he would prefer to work with. Sela chose Shoko, a small delicate dog,

fairly old who best expressed his feelings. We went back to the therapy room with Shoko and I

suggested a chair for Sela to sit down, but he chose to sit on the floor. All his actions pointed to

his wish to limit his visibility in the eyes of the world, starting from his lack of speech, and

through his choice of therapeutic dog. Eventually he opened up to Shoko, who gave him plenty

of love, Sela brushed and fed him, took him for walks and gave him a lot of love. His parents

told us that Sela had begun to communicate with children at kindergarten and with the adults

who visited the family’s home.

At the beginning of the year, Sela succeeded in integrating into the new school easily, forming a

connection with his new teacher and even making social contact with children in his class. Over

time I saw a noticeable improvement in Sela’s training abilities and I suggested that he help me

train one of the female dogs in the Kennel”. The change Sela went through from the start of his

therapy and to date, is huge and obvious to everyone around, and we continue to support Sela

and his family to this day.

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