OT Connections Logo

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy
Hi, and thanks for being interested in AAT!

Animal Assisted Therapy

  • Hi Penny,

    I was just curious why you are not posting on the already existing Animal Assisted Therapy. Many therapeutic activities involving animals can be utilized in more than one setting. The Animal Assisted therapy already has hundreds of members (if I am correct in my memory).

    We should first clarify terminology.

    Pet therapy is typically a volunteer visiting animal and human team who are not working on therapy goals. And, lets not forget that the term in our English language implies that a dog is receiving therapy :o)  If you have a professionally trained dog, it falls under an umbrella of animal assisted interventions-- and the subcategory of animal assisted therapy. 

    I am an occupational therapist who owns a private practice that specializes in animal assisted interventions and we also train assistance dogs. We are members of ASSISTANCE DOGS INTERNATIONAL--  the CCI organization is also a member. I am on the standards committee, as was Corey H. from CCI, and we just finished up terminology for dogs who have been PROFESSIONALLY trained by such organizations (like CCI and Assistance Dogs of the West). So, you may want to start using that terminology since it is within the scope of the greater membership organizations (kind of like our practice framework for AOTA-- but this one is for dogs with jobs who belong to the governing body).  


    I am going to post the rest of my response on the already existing Animal Assisted Therapy Discussion so that all of the pre-existing members can also have access. 





    To all who have joined Effective Animal Therapy, first I need to apologize for the ineffective way that I have facilitated our group discussions and blogs. Please continue to respond and lets begin some effective dialogue. Our facility was able to receive a CCI animal and I want to understand the most effective ways to utilize our animal.  If any of you have a CCI animal or an animal that is utilized only as a pet therapy dog please lets begin some strong dialogue on various groups or sessions that have proved effective for you or your facilities.

    Thank you for your request to join our group and I will plan to check in weekly for facts and ideas. Will you all do the same? Thank you.

    Penny Rogers, OTR/L

    RA for Mississippi

  • Penny, it is so great that you chose to get a dog with such great training.  I have almost 1000 ideas for AAT that is specifically goal related and measurable. 

    Can you tell us anything about the skill of the dog?

    Have ALL of the staff been formally trained with this dogs training cues?

    What population will new dog be working with?

  • Hello.  I'm an OT.  I'm very interested in AAT.  I do not own my own animal to assist in an AAT program.  Is it possible to begin an animal assisted program by having a volunteer handler and their pet join me in therapy sessions?

  • Alison,

    I'm far from an expert on this matter--I'm an OT grad student who's also very interested in AAT--but I have definitely heard of OTs working with a volunteer handler and their dog, particularly in hospitals. You didn't say what type of setting you're in, but if you work for an organization, I think one of the bigger hurdles is getting the org on board and getting risk management and infection control issues ironed out.

    You might check out the website of Therapet (therapet.com), based in Texas. The organization was begun by an OT and it certifies volunteer handlers and their animals to work in health-care settings and participate in AAT; it also runs educational seminars for health-care workers. (I have no connection to this org--I just think it's an interesting one as it's quite established and has a link to OT.)


  • Thanks for the info.  I work for RehabCare/Kindred in a skilled/long term care facility.  Which company would I need to  iron out risk management and infection control issues- the company I work for or the nursing I contract to?

  • Hi Alison - I coordinate a Therapy Dog group that visits at a local hospital, for Hospice, a memory care facility and also at an out patient clinic.  At each site I have met with infection control and risk management to set up guidelines and P&P that is workable for both of us.  With Hospice I have also met with some of the nursing homes that this Hospice serves but honestly, most of the nursing homes do not have any policies for visiting pets (which is a little scary).  I take my dogs to work with me as well and in the past this has included rehab companies - with employers I never had to set up any special P&P but I think it would be a good idea.  It is important that the dogs from whatever group you are using are certified by a testing professional.  With our group we have our own temperament testing protocol that a professional dog trainer completes on each dog/team.  Because the dogs are actually being used in therapy I felt we needed a test that goes more in depth than the testings that Delta Society or TDI use.  Many people out there will say that their dog is a "therapy dog" without actually having put the dog through testing so just make sure they are for real.  Good luck! 

  • Hi Alison,

    It is very possible to have a team come and work with you during a session.  I also wanted to clear up a few terminology issues-- it is RARE to CERTIFY a dog. Most organizations REGISTER dogs. The person and dog are evaluated and registered to be good gambles for VISITATIONS. Many organizations are set up for VISITing, not actual THERAPY. There is a huge difference. VISITING asks asks less of a dog and the interactions are more relaxed and natural. In a THERAPY session, you will have very specific goals for your client-- that means that you and the volunteer need to coordinate. You will need to tell them exactly what goals you are working on, determine what activity the dog can do to help achieve that specific goal(s), and then you need to know how to measure that. So it is tricky, initially, to work with a volunteer team who you can spend enough time with to establish this kind of a relationship-- but if and when it happens...yay! TIme well spent. 

    Also, when pursuing training or continuing education in this area-- ask about training and handling methods. There are a lot of well meaning folks who offer services, but they use negative methods with the dog-- which is not a good reflection on the client. The person should be able to interact with the dog without physically pushing their bottom onto the ground or yanking on the leash...or wearing a prong collar. Not very professional looking.

    Also, when interviewing teams, look at the dogs interaction skills with the CLIENT/PATIENT..... it is not reinforcing to the client if the dog is there and only looking at the handler.  The reason AAT works, is that the client interacts with the dog and the dog with the client. 

    It would serve you well to do some training with the handler (without the dog for a few sessions) so that they know what the expectations are.  If you can teach the volunteer solid foundational things about your clients, and the dog wants to work in your facility, with your population, then it can be a consistent modality with decreased liability.

    I also believe that it is critical to do a program proposal and continue program development when using AAT. You are talking about using this as a modality in therapy. Think of all of the other things we do programming and continuing education for--  and we are now talking about working with a live dog, and adding another person (volunteer handler) into the session-- what are the HIPAA implications...what are the implications for all of the other clients and therapists who also use the space. It is wise to cover all of your bases-- this is not a modality that sits on a shelf until you need it :o)

    Good luck in your AAT adventure! 

  • If you do the program proposal, and give it to each -- that should do it. Always cover all of your bases. Contact me directly at melissa@dogwoodtherapy.com and I can get you an outline of the one I teach in workshops.