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  Therapy Pet FAQs

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What is AAT?

What is AFT?

What is AAA?

What is a therapy pet?

How do therapy pets benefit the people who are visited?

Are there studies to prove the benefits of therapy dogs or therapy pets?

How does the visit affect the dog or other pet?

What type of animal is best for a visiting pet? Any particular breed?

Does my pet need special training?

How does one get involved in therapy pets?

Where can I get more detailed information?

Does this activity pay or is it always volunteer?

How can I do AAT as a career?

How can I start my own program?

How do I get insurance?

Is a therapy dog a service dog?

Can send me more information about ....


What is AAT? What is AFT?

ATT stands for "Animal Assisted Therapy". AFT stands for "Animal Facilitated Therapy". They are essentially the same thing. What the terms mean depends upon whom you ask. Some organizations apply a rather strict definition. See, for example, the Delta Society's page http://www.deltasociety.org/aboutaaat.htm. There is no legal definition so across the United States many organizations use the terms much more broadly than does the Delta Society.

I think there is some value in the distinction Delta Society makes, although personally I'm not very picky. By Delta Society terminology, therapy dogs visit with specified people, not generalized visits in convalescent homes, hospitals etc. Therapy dogs are those assigned to a particular therapeutic protocol under the supervision of a professional. For example, in physical therapy a treatment protocol would be written up with specific goals along the way such as the patient picking up a brush and stroking the dog 5 times. Eventually this leads up to the patient being able to attach the leash to the collar and provide a full grooming. Or if the patient has social/mental problems it might be that the patient simply focus on the dog for x seconds - which increases over times eventually evolving into interaction. During all this records are kept as to the progress of the therapeutic treatment. That is "Animal Assisted Therapy" or AAT.

What is AAA?

A more easily understood term for what Delta calls "animal assisted activities" (or AAA) is "visiting dogs." Dogs making generalized visits to convalescent homes, hospitals, youth facilities etc. are called "animal assisted activities dogs." These dogs are people's pets. The volunteers receive little or no training in therapeutic technique. The dogs and the people are polite, social and well behaved but other than that no special training is required. Their role is to simply make life a little more pleasant for those in various treatment or residential facilities. People visited often receive a therapeutic effect but there is no treatment protocol for an individual patient.

What is a therapy pet?

A therapy pet, or therapy dog, is the same as what Delta Society calls "AAA". Many organizations use it because there is a therapeutic benefit to the animal visits. It describes the purpose of the visit rather than the relationship between the pet and any particular individual. It often isn't a strictly accurate use of the term "therapy" but it is common usage. For more information see the therapy pets articles beginning with the page on Visiting Pets and Animal Assisted Therapy

How do therapy pets benefit those people who are being visited?

The benefits of therapy pets vary a lot by the individual, the problems the interaction is intended to address, the treatment protocol and more. Basically the pet provides motivation for the person to engage in the therapeutic activity. But why the person finds the pet motivating will vary. For some it is lack of nagging, or being judgmental. For example a person may give unconscious signals when another has difficulty speaking but a pet can sit and listen to a story read by someone with speech difficulties. For others it is the sense that the activity is in someway useful to someone else - for example doing physical therapy by grooming the dog is something the dog enjoys so the person feels good about making the effort.

If we are talking about visiting pets, not animal assisted therapy, that still varies by individual. For some individuals it is merely something that breaks the routine. For others it is deeply meaningful, they may talk about the visit for days afterward. Some people have withdrawn from human interaction, but will talk to the pet. In other cases the pet provides the bridge to communicate with other people. In some cases the pet brings up pleasant memories. Even without the overview of a therapeutic program visiting pets can offer both physical and mental benefits. Residents are motivated to leave their rooms, become more physically active, and interact with others.

In many cases the benefits offered by visiting pets are the same as those offered by Animal Assisted Therapy, the difference being that the there is no prescribed course of treatment and no recording of the effects on the individual.

So, for example, when a resident that had never spoken more than the word "yes" (which she repeated endlessly) began speaking to my dog Oso it was not as a result of any deliberate attempt on my part to encourage this specific individual to interact with my dog, nor was the fact that she did speak in sensible and coherent sentences, to the dog, recorded as meeting a treatment goal. I didn't know there was a problem and the program was supervised and observed by a recreational therapist not a mental health professional.

Are there studies to prove the benefits of therapy dogs or therapy pets?

There are numerous studies that show positive benefits in the animal-human interaction. Those studies are available through a variety of academic institutions, universities, colleges, and research organizations, Many studies are available on-line to individuals who have access to academic databases. This web site does not have any such studies available. The best way to located the studies is through university data bases but I also list resources on my book page.

How does the visit affect the dog or other pet?

It depends on the dog, or on the pet as not only dogs are involved. For some pets, as for some people, it is a welcome break in routine. Some love meeting lots of different people. Some enjoy the attention. Other pets find visiting stressful because of the need to "behave" Or they find it stressful because the people they visit are unpredictable. Or they find the constant shifting from one person to another to be frustrating. Good things can be stressful and tiring, and that is often true with visiting dogs. They get home, they are tired and they sleep.

What type of animal works best in AAT? Any particular breed?

Dogs are the most commonly used. They have been bred for a long time for qualities of interacting with people. I've known all kinds of breeds to participate, on in my case, dogs of no particular breed. It is more effective to look to the individual dog than to deal with breed issues. IN terms of numbers most individuals are visiting, not doing therapy, and the dogs are their pets not working animals selected to do a job. I don't think there are any breeds that predominate in visiting the way particular breeds do in certain dog sports. However, there are certainly shared characteristics. In terms of numbers most dogs are either small or naturally calm, or both. A high energy dog like the Border Collie will be less frequently found in such programs (at least while young) simply because the pace is too slow and sedate for most such to enjoy. Similarly dogs that are viewed as independent or aloof such as the Chow-chow would be less frequently found because visiting is rather intense.

Growing in popularity is the resident pet. I think that cats tend to do better than dogs in some ways. Cats are more place oriented than person oriented. Cats tend also to be less distressed by disruption in routine. Unfortunately allergies to cat dander are more common than dog allergies.

Does my pet need special training?

In most cases no special training is necessary, just a polite calm dog that will respond to the basics, e.g. sit, down, stay, come. There are, however, a lot of little behaviors that will make visiting easier. The ability to move and position my dog by spoken command is really useful. "Back up" can get him between two wheelchairs but with his head out for easy petting. "Forward" can get my dog to walk through a narrow space between seated patients. "Paws up" is asking my dog to put just his paws on the side of a bed so the person in the bed can see or reach him. "No kiss" and "kiss" are equally useful in giving the person the kind of interaction they are comfortable with. I can assure them that my dog will not slobber on them unless and until he is invited. In some situations you must be able to prevent the dog from licking. For more information on licking see the article A Kiss Is Just a Kiss . . . Unless It's a Licking For more information on training see my books page.

How does one get involved in AAT?

Since AAT is a formal therapeutic program one would have to find professionals who wish to supervise, or be a professional and run your own program. Delta Society is a good place to start although there are other organizations that do formal therapy. The "Find a Group to Join" page lists the national organizations. Some provide different levels of certification depending upon the skills of the dog-handler team.

For a less formal program such as "Animal Assisted Activities" explore the variety of possibilities. The "Find a Group to Join" page lists local organizations as does the "Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Services Links" page.

I volunteer for a strictly local organization that does its own temperament evaluations. Personally I love the group I volunteer with. I have only one primary responsibility - show up on time with a clean dog. I don't have to make the arrangements, deal with problems, solicit or collect donations, decide the visit style or anything else. Other people need a different kind of group because they have a specific facility in mind or they prefer a specific style of visits. Getting certified for independent visits by one of the national organizations provides flexibility, but joining a local group provides moral support and mentoring. In some cases you can have both. There are some local groups that rely on the national organizations to do the temperament evaluations.

Where can I get more detailed information?

There is plenty of information out there on these programs. There are dozens of skilled individuals with information to share. The problem is that it takes time and effort to sift through that information and learn for oneself the scope of possibilities. This web site is collection of all the information I know about. If it isn't on the web site, then I don't know about it. Most of the web site is devoted not to providing the information itself, but providing links to the information. It requires some digging. You can check out my books page.

The resources web page here offers several classes of information
(1) on-line information on the screening methods groups use for their programs
(2) resources designed to help an individual start their own group
(3) resources designed to educate about issues related to visiting e.g. disease concerns, handling stress, appropriate pet-patient interactions etc. and
(4) articles that list academic resources for those researching related issues.

Does this activity pay or is it always volunteer?

A few people get paid in a variety of capacities. An organization might, for example, have one paid employee responsible for organizing and supervising visits. It would be rare that such a position would anything close to full-time. Someone might get paid to do the evaluations, or to hold classes for the dog and handler teams. For the most part, however, the activity is strictly volunteer

How can I do AAT as a career?

If you are a licensed mental health or social welfare professional then it is possible to include your pet in the course of practicing your profession. For courses of study specific to AAT see the course work list.. There are programs for teaching a person to become a trainer of service dogs (which would be a paid position) or similar. Generally, however, AAT might supplement a more traditional career rather than itself being a career.

How can I start my own program?

The "Therapy Dogs, Animal Assisted Therapy and Animal Assisted Activities Resources Links" page lists a number of links to organizations that sell books, booklets or pamphlets on starting your own program. The Books page also lists books and pamphlets on starting your own program. The basics include:

Do not write me for more, I don't know any more. I've collected all those links to help you find the information, but its up to you to find the path.

How do I get insurance?

Do not write and ask me for more. I don't know any more.

Is a therapy dog a service dog?

Despite the training and good deeds of a therapy dog they have no special rights under the law. A therapy dog is not a service dog. If the dog is specifically assigned to you to assist you in coping with some disability then the dog might be called a "social dog" or "support dog" and might qualify as a service dog. Learn more by using the resources on the Service Dogs and Other Special Animal Relationships Links page.

Can send me more information about ....

Chances are I won't have any more information to send you.

Virtually everything I know about therapy dogs, visiting dogs, animal assisted therapy, animal assisted activities or whatever lable happens to be attached is somewhere on this web site. For more information see my books page.

I've never operated my own program. I do not have my own therapy/visiting pet organization. I've never certified a dog through a national program. My personal experience is with "meet and greet" type programs. That means we simply visit. We are rarely asked to do specific things with a specific individual. I have no idea, on the clinical level, what influence our visits have on those we visit. Naturally I can see how they react when I'm there, but I can't put it into context with the persons general behavior and condition. We often don't even know the names of the people we visit, much less then physical or mental situation.

I have tried, as best I can, to provide sufficient information for a person to generally understand the qualities of a good visiting or therapy pet, what to do before beginning visits, resources for getting more information, national organizations you can contact to ask about a group near you, dozens of websites organized by geographic area, many local organizations, lists of books and pamphlets on starting your own program, and organizations that have research information or academic level educational programs.

If I haven't convinced you yet that everything I know on the topic is already on the web site then at least please see the Help page before contacting me. It isn't that I'm unfriendly, it is just frustrating to do all this work and then have people asking for what is already available to them.

DogPlay's Visiting Pet Stuff

Check the other articles on therapy dogs, visiting pets and related topics.Oso icon to visiting pet index

Also see Books and Publications - How to train your dog, how to start a program, and more.
Help finding information of visiting pets and therapy dogs
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