WHAT IS ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY?

What is Animal Assisted Therapy and how is it different from Animal Assisted Activities?

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is the use of animals as a therapeutic tool to assist a person in restoring balance to their life.

While Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) such as informal visits to a skilled nursing facility have recreational value, they are not to be confused with AAT. AAT is a goal directed, documented process to achieve a specific outcome for a client who is suffering from a physical, cognitive, or emotional disability in their life.

Examples of AAT are:

1. Increase of physical strength, balance, and flexibility through therapeutic riding for a child with Cerebral Palsy.

2. Assisting a physical therapist to help an elderly client who has loss the use of fine motor control after a stroke to hold a brush and groom a therapy dog.

3. Children with learning disabilities are motivated and/or relaxed by the dog's presence to work on reading and literacy skills.

4. A young woman suffering from grief and trauma after sexual abuse is able to stay in the present moment and talk with a therapist while quietly grooming the horse.

What is the difference between a Service Dog, Therapy Dog, and Emotional Support Dog?


A Service Dog is a trained dog for a specific individual. Think of a dog for the blind who helps their owner safely cross the street. A dog for the deaf may be trained to alert their owner to specific sounds such as a doorbell or phone ringing. A dog for someone who suffers from seizures is trained to smell the onset of a seizure and alert their owner to take medication immediately. The training for a Service Dog is long and intense, often 18 months or more. The dog is considered "medical equipment" and necessary for the individual. Hence, they are eligible to be registered with the ADA and have the right to go everywhere, including restaurants, banks, stores, etc. with their owner. The cost can range from $25,000-$40,000.

 

An Emotional Support Dog is trained for an individual and has received specialized training for its owner. The dog may be exposed during their training to medical equipment or de-sensitized to loud sounds such as vocal outbursts from a child with autism. The training is intense, but not as long as a Service Dog, generally 4-8 months. An emotional support dog, cannot be registered with the ADA as they are not considered medical equipment. However, they do have some recognized rights, such as living in a rental unit that does not allow pets and traveling on public transportation or in the cabin of an airline. The cost ranges from $8,000-$10,000. 

A Therapy Dog is also a trained dog, and in some ways more versatile than a Service Dog as they work in a variety of settings with many different populations.  A Therapy Dog may spend the morning at a school relating to young children, and the afternoon at an assisted living facility visiting the elderly!

A Therapy Dog is trained, evaluated, and usually handled by the owner. Cost over time includes several training classes, evaluation fees, and AaTs Credentialed Therapy Dog Team membership fee totaling approximately $1,000.


What are the characteristics of a Therapy Dog and how do they become an AaTs Credentialed Therapy Dog Team?

Any breed or mixed breed can be trained to be a Therapy Dog if they have the correct temperament. Therapy Dogs must be friendly, outgoing, and confident.

Before embarking on a Therapy Dog goal, the dog must reliably know eye contact, sit, down, stay, come, walk on a loose leash, touch, and the leave it cue so there is lots of basic training!

The Introduction to Therapy Dog Work is a course designed for handlers only. It is meant to acquaint the handler with the basics of therapy work, facility evaluation, clientele, insurance considerations and the Public Access Test requirement.

It is suggested this course be completed prior to the AKC Canine Good Citizen course and evaluation.

The final step is the Foundations for the Public Access Test course. Upon completion of the course, the team is evaluated on the Public Access Test. If passed, the AaTs Credentialed Therapy Dog Team may become a member of the organization.

Must I own the dog to become a registered therapy team?

No. If your son/daughter/neighbor has a suitable dog, you may be evaluated as a team.

How does Therapeutic Riding work?

The horse has exactly the same motion when walking as a human. This is extremely important for people with physical disabilities who may have difficulty walking. The motion of the horse passively exercises muscles the person may not be able to use themselves.

The act of balancing on the horse increases core strength, and the rider's position encourages stretching and flexibility.

For communication/cognitive disabilities, the horse encourages the use of language with immediate positive reinforcement. Ask the horse to walk and he does!

Riding often uses geometric patterns and can include obstacle courses. This requires cognitive spacial planning.

For psychosocial and emotional disabilities, the horse provides a sense of empowerment. Imagine having a 1200 pound animal beneath you! You are building team skills and directing this powerful animal! The sense of accomplishment and self-esteem is enormous!

What other types of equine interventions are available?

PATH, International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International) has a wonderful acronym because there are so many options/paths to choose from in equine therapy!

Un-mounted programs are often used for Equine Facilitated Learning or Equine Psychotherapy. Just the interaction with the horse through observation, grooming, leading on the ground can be enormously powerful interventions.

Vaulting programs...think circus performers standing and balancing on the horse...are wonderful for kids at risk who need to develop trust and team building social skills.

Driving programs using the horse and carriage are frequently part of programs for Veterans or people with physical disabilities who are unable to actually mount the horse.

Each of the above interventions requires special certifications through PATH, International or EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association).