In an earlier post, we discussed the differences among therapy dogs, service or assistance dogs, and emotional support animals. In this post, we will discuss therapy dogs in more detail. Therapy dogs or dogs who participate in animal assisted therapy fall under a few different categories. The following definitions come from the Pet Partners website.

Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI)

Animal-assisted interventions are goal oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal-assisted education (AAE) and animal-assisted activities (AAA) are all forms of animal-assisted interventions. In all these interventions, the animal may be part of a volunteer therapy animal team working under the direction of a professional or an animal that belongs to the professional himself.

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Animal-assisted therapy is a goal oriented, planned, structured and documented therapeutic intervention directed by health and human service providers as part of their profession. A wide variety of disciplines may incorporate AAT. Possible practitioners could include physicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, certified therapeutic recreation specialists, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, or mental health professionals.

Animal-Assisted Education (AAE)

Animal-assisted education is a goal oriented, planned and structured intervention directed by a general education or special education professional. The focus of the activities is on academic goals, prosocial skills and cognitive functioning with student progress being both measured and documented.

Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA)

Animal-assisted activities provide opportunities for motivational, educational and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. While more informal in nature, these activities are delivered by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional and/or volunteer, in partnership with an animal that meets specific criteria for suitability.

Of the above listed categories, the last one – Animal Assisted Activities is typically the one most people think of when it comes to therapy work. These activities are not typically goal-oriented as AAT and AAE are. Visiting long term care facilities to bring some joy to the elderly. Visiting children in the hospital to brighten their day. Dogs sitting and listening to kids read at a library program. Though these are the more commonly thought of scenarios for therapy work, there are more and more possibilities opening up every year.

While many people are interested in therapy work with their dogs, most dogs really are not suitable for therapy work. Dogs must not just be tolerant of a wide variety of people, they must love people. If dogs don't love the work they are doing, they will not make it as therapy dogs.

Dogs must not just love people but must be very calm around people – strangers, really – to do therapy work. Your dog might love people, but if your dog can't be polite and calm when greeting, then therapy work is not for them.

In addition to loving people and being calm around them, your dog must also have some training and reliably respond to you in a public setting with other people around. While we think of the dog doing the “therapy” it really is about the teamwork between you and your dog. If you do not have a strong connection with your dog and reliable responses, you won't likely pass an evaluation to be approved as a team.

If you think your dog might enjoy therapy work and would be good at it, we encourage you to look into it and give it a go!