Dogs Enhance Copper Canyon Academy's Renowned Animal-Assisted Therapy Program

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Therapeutic boarding school for girls achieves impressive results with canine therapy program.

Many girls feel more comfortable around dogs than they do around horses

Copper Canyon Academy is going to the dogs - and the school's staff and students think that's a pretty good place to be.

One of the nation's premier therapeutic boarding schools for girls, Copper Canyon Academy has long been recognized for its innovative and successful equine therapy program. But horses aren't the only four-legged therapists on the Copper Canyon campus: A small-but-growing program that partners students with dogs is meeting with considerable success.

Susannah Fox, the lead therapist at the school's Sycamore House, leads the canine therapy program, which offers an enticing alternative to students who may be hesitant about working in and around the stables. "Many girls feel more comfortable around dogs than they do around horses," Fox said.

Working together in a large grassy area, the students start by observing the animals, which Fox said often leads to a discussion about how humans establish - and, in some cases, violate - personal boundaries. Eventually, the girls begin to interact with the dogs - talking to them, petting them, and attempting to teach them simple commands.

Having success with the animals can help boost a student's self-esteem, but failing to get the dogs to do what the students want them to do can be just as valuable. "The animal is going to mirror the emotions the girls are expressing," Fox said, noting that the girls soon learn that their ability to control their own anger, frustration, or aggression will result in the animals' becoming calmer and more agreeable.

When dealing with animals that are unpredictable, occasionally disobedient, and sometimes downright defiant, the girls have an opportunity to see how others might have viewed them in the past. And as they begin to notice parallels between behaviors that the dogs exhibit and actions that they - or people they know - have taken, they are able to see themselves in a different light. "The benefit is that there is this exchange going on between the girls and the dogs," Fox said.

One critical component of that exchange, she observed, is that the girls begin to realize that the animals don't hold grudges or judge them based on previous experiences. "The bottom line is that animals are always in the present," Fox said, adding that embracing this state of mind can help the Copper Canyon students let go of past disappointments and focus more on current opportunities for growth and development.

A relatively new addition to the Copper Canyon experience, the dog program isn't as established or expansive as the school's heralded equine therapy program. But the canine program is making steady growth, and Fox said she is hopeful that the future generations of Copper Canyon girls will have even more opportunities to work with these amazing animals.

"These dogs and horses are the best therapists ever," she said. "When the girls work with them, it can be magical."

About Copper Canyon
Copper Canyon Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for young women ages 14 to 17. Nestled in a scenic Central Arizona valley, Copper Canyon Academy features a wide range of educational and therapeutic initiatives that are designed to meet the specific needs of students who are struggling to achieve their potential. Copper Canyon's structured environment combines a rigorous academic curriculum with innovative opportunities such as animal-assisted therapy and an extensive leadership development program.

Founded upon the principles of cooperation, compassion, and respect, and staffed by established professionals who specialize in adolescent care, Copper Canyon Academy is a respected program with a successful history of helping students overcome behavioral, emotional, and learning problems.

By learning how to excel both in the classroom and within the community, CCA students acquire the skills, self-esteem, and self-reliance necessary to transform themselves from "troubled teens" into healthy and capable young women.

Copper Canyon Academy is a proud member of Aspen Education Group, the nation's largest and most comprehensive network of therapeutic schools and programs. Aspen Education Group offers professionals and families the opportunity to choose from a variety of therapeutic settings in order to best meet a student's unique academic and emotional needs. Aspen is a division of CRC Health Group, the nation's largest chemical dependency and related behavioral health organization.

For more information about Aspen Education Group, visit or call (888) 972-7736. For more information about Copper Canyon Academy, visit or call (928) 567-1322.


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