Therapy Animals: An Introduction to Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal assisted therapy is a rewarding way to bond with your dog while helping others. To participate, your dog must be well-trained, and both of you must pass a test by a therapy organization or local health care facility.

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal assisted therapy is often used to describe a wide range of therapy activities, but animal assisted therapy is actually more specific. Animal assisted activities include visiting a facility with your dog and interacting with others, but animal assisted therapy usually has a goal to be achieved.

In animal assisted therapy, the same dog usually meets with the same person several times, and the person has a goal, such as physical therapy or educational improvement. For example, if children at a local school read to your dog, you may be charged with keeping score of learned words or making a report card of progress.

In these cases, you may be working directly with another professional, such as a teacher, doctor or physical therapist. Your dog is an integral part of the treatment process.

Therapy Opportunities

In larger cities, animal assisted therapy opportunities are almost endless. Even in small towns, there are usually facilities that lend themselves to animal activities.

Common locations that accept therapy organizations include:

  • hospitals
  • convalescent homes
  • senior centers
  • schools
  • libraries
  • group homes
  • assisted-living facilities
  • homes for abused families or recovering addicts

You can also use your imagination to think of other places where dogs may assist humans in reaching either physical or educational goals.

Training Requirements

In order to prepare your dog for animal assisted therapy, you must properly train him. An out-of-control dog will be of no help, no matter how much he loves people.

To be allowed in one of the approved facilities, you must demonstrate that your dog can sit politely during greetings. Many people are afraid of dogs or simply don't want muddy paw prints on their clothes.

Your dog also must show that he can do a long stay, a reliable recall and a down. Small children may only want to greet your larger dog if he's lying down to their level. In addition, your dog must be able to walk politely through crowds and have a reliable leave it, preventing him from grabbing food or medication from people.

Temperament Requirements

Not all dogs are cut out for therapy. Only the calmest, most unflappable dogs succeed in all therapy situations. Your dog may hear loud noises and yelling. He may be hit, stepped on or handled in a way that he doesn't like. Your dog must be able to handle all of these situations.

Therapy organizations will test your dog in many situations, including uncomfortable petting, yelling and petting by many people, to ensure he can handle all types of situations.

However, your dog isn't the only one being tested. It's your job to protect your dog in these situations, so you are being tested as well. They want to see that you will protect your dog and interact well with others. Even though the people are most excited to see your dog, you have to interact with them as well.

Therapy Organizations

If you have a facility in your home that you are interested in visiting, you may be able to do so without joining an organization. You may have to take a test, such as the Canine Good Citizen test designed by the American Kennel Club, or the organization itself may have a special test for you.

However, if you don't want to approach facilities yourself, joining an organization is the best route. They often select facilities for you and even organize the visits. The most popular organizations are the Delta Society and Therapy Dog International, but your local area may have others as well.