I had a lovely example of the power of AAT in action this week and I thought it was a good time to start sharing some ‘golden moments’ with all of you.
Rory and I were working at the clinic this week and during our lunch break an older lady and her daughter came into the waiting room. Rory decided she just had to go visit and actually burst her way through the door (which she’s not allowed to do) to go and say hello. I was quite surprised, as the kitchen door into the waiting room is a boundary she knows really well. As is often the case, the clients of course didn’t know that she’d done something ‘naughty’ and just wanted to pat her. I had to explain that she’d been a bit cheeky and needed a correction and reset* before I could let her get her pats (you really don’t want her thinking she gets rewarded with pats for breaking the rules!)
* I should probably explain the correction and reset thing, as it comes up pretty often when working in a therapeutic setting. Obviously the dogs are still dogs and they do things that aren’t always appropriate, like licking clients in the face for example! (which is Rory’s particular favourite move – she’s like lightening sometimes!). So if the dog isn’t listening to the handler, breaks a well-established boundary or otherwise goes ‘off script’ too much we correct the behaviour with a firm, “No” and walk the dog in a circle (to basically reassert command) and then try and reset the situation to check that the dog has learned the lesson. So for example with the lady and her daughter, I corrected Rory and put her back in the kitchen, then asked the women to beckon her over and talk excitedly. Rory didn’t budge this time so I gave her the command to follow me into the waiting room and she got as many pats as she liked!
So Rory is snuggling up to the older lady and giving her the big eyes (see below!)
(the picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but you get the idea!) and the lady is chatting away happily and animatedly about Rory and how sweet and cute she is and then she started talking about her old dog who had to be put down last year but who she cherished and wanted to show me photos of. We spent a lovely, relaxed five minutes just talking very easily in the waiting room and then Rory and I had to head off.
As we were passing back through half an hour later, the daughter asked if she could speak to me. She wanted to let me know that her mother was very severely depressed and hadn’t spoken to anyone that calmly or happily or easily in nearly a year. She wanted to thank me and Rory for showing her that side of her mother was still in there. Her mother’s psychologist also spoke to me afterwards and said she had learned more about the client in that one session than she had in the previous six combined.
It was a truly amazing and very special moment to witness, as it was such a simple, organic encounter, but it had such a profound effect on everyone involved. It reminded me just how privileged I am to be able to work in this field.