Canine-Assisted Mediation (“CAM”) is a novel and promising approach to family law mediation. It involves using dogs to assist in the mediation process to provide emotional support, help reduce stress and anxiety in participants, and promote positive and constructive communication between the litigants.
I came up with the idea while reflecting on my earlier practice as a family lawyer and mediator and, in particular, on my positive work experiences with my first dog, a black standard poodle named Xpresso. Over the years, Xpresso’s presence in my office appeared to have a noticeably calming and soothing effect on my clients and positively impacted their mediation outcomes.
I formally introduced the concept of using dogs while working on my Master of Law Thesis. I focussed much of my post-graduate studies on exploring the different theories and strategies that lawyers and mediators can use to de-escalate conflict and facilitate more positive and productive communications during highly emotional circumstances. The core thesis on the benefits of including dogs in the mediation process flowed from my review of existing literature indicating the positive effects of dogs on human health and quality of life.
As part of my research, I reviewed literature underscoring the benefits of therapy animals in medical and other stressful situations, and I considered the implications of my findings for mediation. I also provided practical guidelines for how mediators might constructively and ethically incorporate CAM into the dispute resolution process in a way that safely and successfully meets the needs of the parties, the mediator, and the dog. My studies helped me to appreciate that Xpresso was more than just my friend and good luck charm. I realized that Xpresso’s quiet and gentle presence helped reduce stress and anxiety in participants, which was especially beneficial in emotionally charged mediation sessions. His presence had a calming effect on my clients, helping to lower their blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Xpresso’s participation also helped create a more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere in the mediation sessions. He helped break down barriers between parties, creating a sense of connection and promoting empathy. With Xpresso on duty, my clients are more focused, open, and receptive to the mediation process, making mutually acceptable agreements more likely. These benefits are significant in family mediations, where the parties’ relations are strained, and their emotions often run high.
Since the publication of my thesis, mediators across the globe have successfully incorporated the use of dogs in their mediation practice. As CAM continues to gain popularity, we will likely see more and more mediators incorporating therapy dogs into their work. CAM can make a real difference in people’s lives, whether in family, workplace, or community mediation.
Today, my new best friend and canine associate, Charlie Paul, or Boo, when he is off duty, is a red standard poodle. I am most grateful to have Charlie by my side. As for Charlie, he is always happy to help without any expectation of payment. However, he does love a good pat and a kind word of appreciation.
In conclusion, CAM is a promising approach to dispute resolution that can improve the quality of mediation sessions by creating a more relaxed and comfortable environment that facilitates conflict resolution and relationship building and promotes better outcomes for all parties involved. CAM can make a real difference in people’s lives, whether in family, workplace, or community mediation.
You can learn more about CAM and its benefits by reading my thesis, which you can find at: https://journals.law.harvard.edu/hnlr/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/HNLR-Paul-Final.pdf.
Written by David A. Paul, K.C. (BGS, LLB, LLM, RRM)