The assisted intervention with dogs improves the behavior and motivation to attend class of minors who have dropped out before finishing secondary education. This is reflected in the 2023 internal report drawn up by the Valora Foundation, a non-profit organization whose objective is to help the most vulnerable, in collaboration with the Chair of Animals and Society of the Rey Juan Carlos University. A work project that has been developed during two school years (2021-2022 / 2022-2023) and that was aimed at young people between 15 and 17 years of age from a Training and Socio-educational Care Center in Parla (Madrid). “It is the first that we do for this group of minors and the results have been very good,” explains Nuria Máximo Bocanegra, director of the Chair.
Two years ago, the Madrid City Council contacted researchers from the Cátedra Animales y Sociedad, who study the human-animal bond, to try to launch a project that would bring together minors who have failed at school and dogs from the Parla Animal Protection Center (CPA). From there came the collaboration with Perruneando, an association specialized in canine education and assisted intervention with dogs directed by David Ordóñez Pérez, coordinator of the only master’s degree in Spain in Animal Assisted Intervention, at the University of Jaén.
These dogs, with some special characteristics, including the fact that they like to be with people, accompany the monitors in the theoretical training classes in the educational compensation classroom of the Valora Foundation and the practices are done with abandoned dogs in the CPA. The objective of this program giving a pawwhich lasts four months for each group, is for the minors to be agents of change: “That they feel useful, because they are the ones who are going to help others who are in a situation of abandonment,” explains Carolina Millán, occupational therapist and expert in Animal Assisted Interventions in Perruneando.
A dog is not just a companion animal. They are social beings who empathize with people, capable of helping to meet certain educational, health or social objectives with the sick or also, as in this case, with minors in social vulnerability. This is how Máximo explains it, who assures that the change in the students who have participated has been positive: “They are young people who have a hard time getting hooked on the training and coming every day and with this project they have achieved it”. Something that Noelia Costa, one of the teachers in the Valora compensation classroom, confirms: “We told them that if they didn’t behave well we would take them to Perruneando the following week, and it worked”.
Finally, there have been 32 young people, between 15 and 17 years old, who have participated in the project to date. The activities have been carried out in four groups, of eight participants each, according to the Valora Foundation. Adolescents presented a great lack of motivation for everything academic, with curricular gap or absenteeism and with personal or family problems, according to the same sources. But this program, which they combined with their hairdressing or computer equipment repair classes at this Foundation, has helped them become more involved in their studies, to be punctual and not miss class.
Spain is the third country with the most school dropouts in the European Union, preceded by Romania and Iceland, according to Eurostat data. In fact, during 2022, young people who dropped out of compulsory education increased by 0.6 points, according to data from the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training. But for the kids involved in this program, the bond they create with the dogs helps them improve their behavior and attitude, “which for us is valued more than academics,” says Costa. Something that several researchers from the University of the Basque Country, in San Sebastián, already demonstrated in a study published in 2019 in the journal International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and titled Leaving a mark, an animal-assisted intervention program for children who have been exposed to gender-based violence: a pilot study (for its Spanish translation). In their research they pointed out that the intervention with dogs and adolescents who had suffered some childhood trauma improved their levels of stress and anxiety and increased motivation.
Train to be adopted
Since Perruneando they have been taught basic concepts of canine education. “We talk to them about how to approach dogs, canine language, that they come or walk by their side,” explains Millán. This occupational therapist maintains that students feel useful helping another vulnerable group such as abandoned dogs because, according to her, a trained dog is easier to adopt. During the project, they worked with different cases of these animals, such as that of Flora, a rehabilitated greyhound who was going to be hanged and who is still mistrustful and shy. For Millán it has been surprising to see how they respect the limits that you set for them: “It is not necessary to repeat to them how they have to behave with her, for example, and the ability they have to understand and empathize with the situation of the dog, something that with many Adults and professionals we can’t get it because their desire to go towards it can do more.
They have also been taught to make toys for dogs or how to relax the animal — “what happens, in the first part, to relax them first,” says Millán. “Dogs are very emotional and you have to make an effort to make them want to be with you,” adds Mónica Kern, a volunteer dog educator at Perruneando. A lesson that many minors have also helped them to get to know themselves and their peers: “And thus reflect on the labels that people are given and open their minds about diversity and how they can help others,” Millán points out. In fact, some have returned to the CPA voluntarily to help or have reported a situation of abandonment of dogs in their municipality to the Police. “We want to teach them that this feeling of anger that they may feel must be focused on for the better and not for the worse. Direct him to do good things”, adds this occupational therapist.
From the Chair, Valora and Perruneando trust that the project will continue and that it will last throughout the coming academic year. “For the kids, four months are short,” says Costa. “When they get the link between adolescents and animals, the project ends,” adds Millán. So far they have not received a response from the Parla City Council, which has been the one that has fully financed the program these two years. “When they are with the animals they are other people. They become empathetic and many values come out that they believe they do not have”, explains Costa, who hopes that the project can continue to help more minors with school failure.
You can follow Mamas & Papas on Facebook, Twitter or sign up here to receive our biweekly newsletter.