Dr. Steven Lazarus uses a therapy dog for animal assisted therapy. AAT has been found to be very helpful for children.

Get To Know Your Animal Helpers

Get To Know Your Animal Helpers

Kids and animals seem to go together naturally. Just put a child in a room with a puppy, kitten, or turtle, and see how they open up and explore! Throughout human history, we have interacted closely with our four-legged friends for safety, companionship, and entertainment. In today’s world, some of the best child psychologists and teenage psychologists in Colorado know that animals can go a step further  for some teens and children who are struggling with mental health. Read on to find out the amazing ways that therapists and families use animals for emotional health!

The Service Dog

Perhaps the best-known type of helper animal is the service dog! From canine assistants to the blind, to dogs that can detect seizures and call 9-1-1, these animals have been trained for a specific, useful task that addresses a physical or mental health condition. These guys can be fun, but remember, they are working!

The Emotional Support Animal

An emotional support animal provides an important emotional service, such as being used as a coping tool or emotional support. However, these animals may not have been trained on specific task, and may “work” only for their “person.” While service animal is often a “must-have,” similar to a wheelchair for people with limited mobility, an emotional support animal is more like a best friend.

The Therapy Animal

Those who have visited with Dr. Lazarus and Zeke know how amazing a therapy animal can be! Like a service dog, official therapy dogs have had special training and know just how to behave in a therapy setting. Children and teens often struggle with intense conversations, and a soft, furry dog in an animal-assisted therapy setting can be a great ice breaker or stress-reliever. Therapy animals also work well for metaphors, such as helping a child understand the need to care for and care about others. When a child is making the difficult transition through the “tween” years,  animals can help to alleviate the constant tension and awkwardness.

The Family Pet

Last, but not least, the humble family pet deserves a place on this list! Sure, your family pet may growl at strangers, have accidents when the family goes out too long, or bark at inopportune times, but if they love you and you love them, any family pet can be a valuable part of a healthy life. Pets remind us to be gentle, to show love with exuberance (and slobber!), to care for those who need it, and to love unconditionally.

If you think your child or teen would benefit from animal-assisted therapy, don’t wait! Find a great teenage psychologist in Littleton today!



How Animal-Assisted Therapy Can Save Your Marriage

If you’ve checked out the statistics lately, you probably know that your marriage is about as likely to fail as it is to succeed, just looking at the numbers. But there is so much more to a successful marriage than statistics! In fact, one of the best ways that you can protect your marriage is by working on it, making it an active effort, and seeking the best treatment when you know you and your partner are not seeing eye-to-eye. Sometimes, talking with your partner can just seem to be too much, but many effective techniques in couples therapy can help , including animal-assisted therapy. Keep reading to find out just how it works!

Reduce stress. Since the days of Florence Nightingale, animals have been partners in health. For reasons science can’t quite understand yet, animals reduce stress levels in humans, especially when they get to interact with the animal, such as petting it. In fact, research shows that all animals have this benefit—even hard-shelled turtles reduced stress in research! When you are less stressed, you can communicate more clearly with your partner.

Provide distraction. You scheduled an appointment with a couples therapist in Highlands Ranch, but the pressure of talking seems too much! Fortunately, a therapy dog provides great distraction. A therapy dog will great you and wants to play. This is a nice ice-breaker will help you feel relaxed and comfortable each visit.

Model compassion and attunement. Animals are naturally attuned to body language; certain animals like dogs can also smell stress hormones and often respond by giving that person more attention. Humans can learn from our four-legged friends  and become more aware of their own and their partner’s emotional states.

Dr. Steve Lazarus and his therapy dog Zeke have helped hundreds of couples to reconnect, strengthen their relationships, and even save marriages over the years. If you and your partner want to improve or save your marriage, but need a little help, consider animal-assisted therapy!



How Animals Help Couples Communicate

Many couples dread relationship counseling. While each couple is different, most present with one overarching concern: We can’t communicate! Fortunately, there is more to the office in Littleton than couple’s counseling—Zeke, a certified therapy dog, assists and helps people to express their feelings and communicate with one another. But how can a therapy dog help you communicate with your partner? Read on to find out more!

Fidget tool. Despite the popularity of fidget spinners in 2017, many people still struggle with a need to fidget with something, especially when the topic of conversation is otherwise tense. A therapy dog will happy sit and be petted, providing an outlet for both partners to fidget and experience sensory stimulation.

Emotional assurance. Therapy dogs, in general, promote calm and relaxation. Since our four-legged friends are non-judgmental and typically very present-focused, they can help humans feel the same way.

Welcome distraction. Sometimes, couples just need distraction. The depths of love you once shared may be disrupted by hatred, anger, jealousy, or resentment, and a pleasant distraction may be the perfect solution to help you feel better.

Nonverbal language. Dogs are experts at nonverbal language because they don’t speak with words. Instead, they are attuned to your body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and positioning. This can help reflect behavior back to the people demonstrating that behavior. For example, a dog who feels threatened by yelling or erratic behavior may move away from someone displaying these behaviors, even if the person does not realize they are doing it. A skilled couple’s therapist in Littleton can help you to interpret these animal communication signs and adjust accordingly.

Children. Animals can reflect the world of children. You and your partner may try to keep your words civil or may even plaster on a fake smile all day, but your children may sense your emotional distress. Like our animal friends, children, especially young children, often pay more attention to body language and unspoken signals. How the therapy dog reacts, particularly to arguments, can signal the same sort of distress for your child.

To start experiencing the benefits of animal assisted couple’s therapy in Highlands Ranch, give Dr. Lazarus a call today. He and Zeke will be happy to happy to help!

Top Tips for Introducing a New Pet to the Family

The family pet is an image right out of a Norman Rockwell painting—imagine your dog, curled up by the fireplace, or your cat, curled up in your lap. Now, imagine your child chasing the dog, and the cat, and destroying everything in their path!

While pets can be a wonderful way for kids to learn about responsibility, develop empathy, and even learn to connect emotionally to another creature in a safe and loving manner, it is of utmost importance that your new pet is introduced in a way that will keep both the child and the animal safe. This will set the stage for a strong relationship to come, and will ensure that nobody gets squeezed, bitten, dropped, or scratched. Dr. Steven Lazarus provides animal assisted therapy in Littleton, helping kids to build confidence and express their feelings with the help of his trusted therapy pal: Zeke, the dog. Here are the top 5 tips from Dr. Lazarus and Zeke for introducing a pet to your family.

  1. Choose the right pet. Before bringing home a little ball of fur, make sure your child is mature enough for it. While very small animals like chihuahuas or rabbits may seem like a great idea, children under 10 often lack the fine motor skills to hold these delicate creatures safely. A sturdy dog, cat, or resilient member of the rodent family might make a better pet.
  2. Teach your child how to interact. Small children especially like to pat, hug, and squeeze—the perfect storm for a bite in the face! Teach children to stroke the animal gently on its back and give it space.
  3. Help your child understand your pet. For example, cats might arch their backs and hiss when frightened, while dogs may have wide eyes showing the whites or may cower or back away. Remind your child that the pet is not a toy, it is a living being with feelings who must be respected.
  4. Teach your child that a pet is a long-term commitment. While it can be tempting to get rid of pets when children are not attending to them, this does not teach problem-solving skills, and suggests that some members of the family can simply be discarded. Promote love and responsibility by helping your child provide the best life for their pet.
  5. Accept the truth: the pet will become the parent’s. Even the most responsible children are still children—they still need caretaking, so they will, on many occasions, forget to feed, water, take out, love, brush, or otherwise care for their pet. Don’t get a pet unless you, the parent, are also interested in adding a furry, scaly, or feathery little ball of love to your home!

To find out more tips on parenting, behavior management, or animal assisted therapy in Highlands Ranch, contact Dr. Steven Lazarus.

How Therapy Dogs Help Children with Reading

Did you know that dogs can help your child both improve their reading skills and learn to love reading in the process? If your child struggles with reading, consider tutoring with a terrier!

Just ask the kids at B.F. Kitchen Elementary School in Loveland; they’ve been reading to Copper, a golden retriever, since 2011, thanks to the school’s Reading Retriever program — and the results speak for themselves.

This specially trained dog works one-on-one with struggling young readers, providing a supportive, friendly reading buddy who never, ever judges a mispronounced word or run-on sentence. Kids say that having Copper around lifts their spirits, making them feel more confident and excited to read — and results from other schools, libraries and tutoring programs with therapy dogs back this up.

In fact, a study from Tufts University suggests that reading with dogs offers a host of academic, social, physiological and psychological benefits for children, such as:

  • Higher self-esteem and autonomy
  • Reduced stress and lower blood pressure
  • Increased language use
  • Improved social interactions
  • Longer, more sustained focus
  • Better attitude toward school and learning
  • Reduced loss of reading skill over summer vacation
  • Improved reading ability

Libraries, schools and even universities across the country are taking advantage of the benefits of therapy dogs. In Colorado, programs that incorporate reading and therapy dogs are growing more popular, with organizations such as Denver’s Therapy Dogs of Boulder County, Denver Pet Partners, Have Paws Will Travel in Arapahoe County, Aurora’s Wagging Tales, and Paws to Read in Colorado Springs. Even reading to a family pet can help struggling readers to improve their skills and feel more confident.

Reading ability impacts all areas of academic achievement, so building your child’s confidence and skill is essential. Sometimes, a little extra help — from a therapy dog or a professional — can make all the difference. If you’re seeking a child psychologist in the Littleton area, Dr. Steven Lazarus — and his certified therapy dog Zeke — can help your family work through issues together.

15 Reasons Animal Assisted Therapy Works

Animal assisted therapy can be more effective than traditional talk therapy because:

1) Animals can increase a person’s motivation and participation in therapy.

A person who is resistant to coming into traditional therapy may be more excited to come in and interact with the animal present.

2) Animals can help build trust with the therapist and can make the therapy room feel like a safe place

When a person learns about the therapists animal, if begins to develop a connection between the person and the therapist. This creates trust between them, allowing the person to feel safe and not threatened.

3) Animals can improve everyone’s social interactions

Animals are playful, funny, spontaneous, and sometimes even moody. Animal assisted therapy breaks down social barriers and enables easy communication.

4) Dogs offer unconditional acceptance

A dog is always happy to see you. He will not judge you, hold a grudge, and is happy to see you no matter who you are.

5) People may identify with certain animals or characteristics of animals

Did you ever play the animal game growing up? “If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” People may use animals as metaphors for problems in their own life. They may identify with personality characteristics in animals and relate them to themselves or other people they know.

6) Animals can help people relax when anxious or upset

Research shows significant changes in peoples physiological arousal when in the presence of an animal. Clients can also focus on ways to relax, slow their breathing, and gain control of their feelings.

7) Animals can provide support for us socially and emotionally

They allow us to want to be social. Animals show their feelings directly, allowing us to learn how to be more free in expressing our own feelings. They allow us to learn different ways to communicate.

8) Some people have difficult connecting with others

Animals provide a unique way for people to learn how to develop strong and intimate bonds and break out of awkward or distant connections with others.

9) Animals make learning new things easier

Every opportunity with an animal can present opportunities to learn something about yourself or others around you. Their presence allows for people to learn quickly and easily what might take much longer in traditional therapy.

10) The presence of an animal in therapy allows for the focus to be on the animal instead of on the client

Feeling less pressure to open up or having to answer questions actually allows for people to open up more quickly and deeply as the animal disarms our normal defenses.

11) Animals may help children who have ADHD

Imagine asking an ADHD child to do three things and complete all of them. They probably will have a great deal of trouble doing this. However, asking these kids to take three steps in training a dog can often be completed. This teaches sequencing, follow through, and patience.

12) A person may see his or her own feelings and issues in the animal

Sometimes, it is easier for us to deal with a problem if we first see it in another person or animal. We develop strategies for how the animal could work out the problem. This then leads to us being more open to doing similar things for our own problem.

13) Dogs are funny and playful

Their playful nature and energy is contagious. Quickly, people are playing and relaxing during a session.

14) Animals promote empathy and nurturance

Animals can help us develop the ability to be empathic toward others. Caring for animals teaches us how to care for ourselves and others.

15) Animals can improve self-esteem

As a child interacts with an animal, they may learn something about themselves or others. For example, they may teach a dog a new trick. This allows a person to feel competent and develops self esteem.


Loosely taken from: Professional Therapy Dogs of Colorado: Handler’s Guide and Training Manual. (2012).

The Furry Therapist: How Dogs Aid Psychotherapy

Therapy DogResearch and my personal observations show that a well-trained therapy dog often is a patient’s best friend during counseling sessions. Brief interactions with therapy dogs can decrease production of the stress hormone epinephrine, reduce blood pressure and decrease anxiety.

Dogs can be ideal healers if they themselves are loved, treated well and properly trained for animal assisted therapy (AAT). They excel at therapeutic interactions — such as cuddling up against a withdrawn child — and give love unconditionally. Friendly, non-judgmental and well behaved, an animal assisted therapy dog helps put a patient at ease.

That’s a good description for my furry co-therapist, Zeke.

A Seeing Heart Dog
Zeke quickly tunes in to the moods of young children, teens and adults troubled by a wide range of problems including autism, child abuse and neglect, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Not only is he one of my most loyal and trusted friends but also one of my best resources for relaxing patients. Zeke helps patients reduce their anxiety and feel comfortable.

Zeke does this with restraint. He gently approaches patients only when they welcome him and give permission through their words and actions. Of course, as an AAT dog he is also trained to pay close attention to my carefully directed cues. Zeke is what some therapists call a ‘seeing heart dog.’

During these interactions, I read the body language — both of Zeke and patients who may be having trouble sharing — to gain valuable information that helps me understand patient states of mind and what questions to ask to facilitate discussion.

Nothing to Sneeze At
Zeke generally won’t make you sneeze or feel itchy. He is a Labradoodle, which means he is part Labrador and part poodle. As with poodles, Labradoodles are hypoallergenic and usually don’t cause allergic reactions.

Similar to both breeds, Labradoodles are gentle and intelligent. So Zeke is well cut out for care giving and aiding in problem solving. His fur and his loving concern are nothing to sneeze at.

Animal Assisted Therapy with Dogs

It’s no secret that humans have long shared a special bond with dogs– perhaps even for as long as Homo-sapiens has been around as a species.

But did you know that our association with dogs actually offers a number of mental, emotional and physical benefits?

Anyone who has a pet dog might not be quite as shocked by this news; after all, as a pet owner, you’re probably already well aware of the unconditional love, non-judgmental acceptance, and unquestioning loyalty that dogs offer. You’ve likely also noticed the feelings of calm, peace and safe relaxation that you get when you’re spending time with your pet.

That’s just one of the reasons why animal assisted therapist services are growing in popularity. As the field expands, researchers are exploring the many benefits of pet therapy – and the results of these studies may surprise you!

Psychological Benefits of Pet Therapy and Therapy Dogs

Spending time with therapy dogs produces a number of mental health benefits, from enhanced relaxation to reduced stress and anxiety. Therapy dogs, or carefully selected dogs that undergo intense, individualized training, are used in a range of mental health settings. The animal assisted therapist can help many different issues.

With pet therapy, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — or PTSD — learn how to relax, overcome feelings of agitation, and deal with anxiety.

Children who’ve experienced abuse or neglect or who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism, or attention-deficit-hyperactivity (ADHD) find a warm, loving friend that they can hold and pet – and that helps them to feel calm.

The research agrees; one study found that spending just 12 minutes with a therapy dog lowered anxiety by 24% and reduced levels of the stress hormone epinephrine by 17%.

Other studies indicate that exposure to therapy dogs can:

  • Alleviate stress
  • Promotes self-reliance and altruistic behavior
  • Reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Create feelings of trust, bonding and rapport
  • Help develop feelings of empathy for others

Physiological Benefits

But the benefits of pet therapy aren’t just psychological – sessions with an animal assisted therapist can actually make you healthier! Studies show that being around therapy dogs results in physiological benefits such as:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Reduced risk of asthma
  • Eased Alzheimer’s symptoms
  • Lowered cholesterol and triglyceride levels

Pet therapy also makes the therapy process itself more relaxing. Starting therapy can feel awkward or even intimidating, but a warm, furry presence helps you to feel calm and safe. Dr. Steven Lazarus and his therapy dog, Zeke — a hypo-allergenic Labradoodle — provide a unique, friendly, and comfortable approach to dealing with issues.

See also:

15 Reasons Animal Assisted Therapy Works

The Furry Therapist