Getting Started with Animal Assisted Therapy


What is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)?

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is intervention delivered by a professional with the participation of an animal. Cats, rabbits, horses, and other animals may be trained for AAT but here at Speak Therapy I've chosen to partner with a therapy dog. 

What does AAT look like?

Since AAT is goal directed, the activities will vary based on the client’s therapy goals. One thing to remember is the dog is not doing therapy.  The SLP is doing therapy with the participation of the dog.  The clinician develops an individualized treatment plans based on client needs and integrate the therapy dog as a tool to achieve therapy goals. For example the dog may follow directions presented by an client learning to navigate their communication device ("get ball") or provide a confidence boost to a client navigating a new social situation. 

Can therapy dogs really help with communication skills? Is there evidence that supports this? 

Research has consistently shown the benefits of therapy animals for children with Autism or related behavioral challenges. The Spring 2015 issue of Advances discussed the potential of pet therapy to improve patient's life outside the therapy setting including "better social interactions,  increased motor function and decreased physiological reactions to life stress" (Siewertsen, 2015).   A similar study in  the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that "dogs can be an effective component in therapy for children showing social withdrawal" (Redefer and Goodman 1989).  More research is needed to strengthen these findings, something we hope to partner with researchers on in the future. 

Can I get my dog certified to be a therapy dog? 

A therapy dog needs basic obedience training including socialization, and you need to be confident in your skills as a handler.  Once your dog is trained, you can test to become a certified therapy team. There are national and regional different organizations that you can go through to become a pet therapy team including Therapy Dogs International (TDI), Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Pet Partners.