There’s a new member of the team at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County, but this guy walks through the door on four legs.
Albert is a therapy dog. The Golden Doodle is being trained for work in the Club through Top Notch Service Dogs in Elkhart.
“We are so excited to be able to provide this service to our members,” said Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County President and CEO Tami Hicks. “We look forward to watching kids interact with Albert as we start this journey.”
Albert will undergo approximately 18 months of training with Top Notch to best meet the needs of the youth in the Clubs and KidsCare.
“Albert will be learning all about how to have good manners when meeting new people. Sitting or standing nicely to be petted,” said Christina Gates, Owner/Trainer for Top Notch Service Dogs.
Gates and Albert’s handlers will be spending time making sure he has plenty of exposure to the clubs and the different noises he will be working around.
“This is all done in small sessions. Albert will be coming to the club a few times a month in short time frames to make sure he’s comfortable in the Club settings,” Gates said.
He will eventually start doing half days on Fridays and then full days. He will then do full days on Fridays and Mondays.
“We we will slowly introduce him to longer working days as he matures. The process is slow, but it goes quickly,” Gates said.
Members at the Clubs will also be educated about Albert so they understand how to interact with him.
“It’s important for them to know that even though Albert is a therapy dog, it’s always important to ask if it’s an appropriate time to pet him,” Gates said.
Once he’s fully trained, Albert will also be attending events and speaking engagements.
“He will be an ambassador for Club out in the community, but his number one priority is our youth,” Hicks said.
Therapy dogs can have numerous benefits when working with youth.
Emotional Support: Therapy dogs can create a calming and nurturing environment, reducing stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Interacting with a therapy dog can help children and teenagers feel safe, secure, and emotionally supported.
Improved Mental Health: Petting or cuddling a therapy dog can release endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting hormones. This interaction can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, increase feelings of happiness and promote overall well-being.
Socialization and Communication Skills: Dogs are non-judgmental and provide a safe and supportive environment for practicing social interactions. Children who may be shy, have social anxiety or struggle with communication find it easier to open up and engage with a therapy dog, which can subsequently translate into improved social skills with peers and adults.
Increased Motivation and Engagement: The presence of a dog can make learning activities more enjoyable and exciting, leading to increased participation and concentration. Therapy dogs can be used as a motivating factor in various educational programs, encouraging children to complete tasks or work on specific goals.
Stress Reduction: Spending time with a dog has been shown to lower heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels (stress hormone) in individuals of all ages.
Empathy and Emotional Awareness: Caring for and understanding the needs of an animal can teach children to recognize and respond to the emotions of others. This can contribute to the development of important social and emotional skills that are valuable throughout their lives.
Albert will have multiple handlers that will work with him to make sure that he is always with someone that is trained to work with him.
“It’s important for everyone to know that since Albert is a puppy, he will need a lot of breaks and time to just be a silly puppy. We don’t want to move too quickly with him so that he enjoys his job for many many years,” Gates said.