What are Animal Assisted Therapy and

Animal Assisted Activities?


Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA)

The formal definition of Animal-Assisted Activities is:

“AAA provides opportunities for motivational, educational, recreational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance quality of life. AAA are delivered in a variety of environments by specially trained professionals, paraprofessionals, and/or volunteers, in association with animals that meet specific criteria.” (from Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy)

What does this really mean?

Animal-assisted activities are basically the casual “meet and greet” activities that involve pets visiting people. The same activity can be repeated with many people, unlike a therapy program that is tailored to a particular person or medical condition.

The Key Features of AAA:

  • Specific treatment goals are not planned for each visit.
  • Volunteers and treatment providers are not required to take detailed notes.
  • Visit content is spontaneous and visits last as long or as short as needed.

Examples of AAA:

  • A group of volunteers takes their dogs and cats to a nursing home once a month to “visit.” The visit occurs as a large-group activity with some direction and assistance provided by facility staff. The volunteer group facilitator keeps an informal log about who was visited.
  • An individual brings her dog to a child’s long-term care facility to “play” with residents. Although the staff is involved in the visits, the staff has not set treatment goals for the interactions. Aside from signing in and out, no records are kept.
  • A dog obedience club gives an obedience demonstration at a residential facility for teenagers with delinquent behavior.

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

The formal definition of animal-assisted therapy is:

“AAT is a goal-directed intervention in which an animal that meets specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process. AAT is directed and/or delivered by a health/human service professional with specialized expertise, and within the scope of practice of his/her profession.

AAT is designed to promote improvement in human physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning [cognitive functioning refers to thinking and intellectual skills]. AAT is provided in a variety of settings and may be group or individual in nature. This process is documented and evaluated.” (From Standards of Practice for Animal-Assisted Activities and Therapy)

The Key Features of AAT:

  • There are specified goals and objectives for each individual.
  • Progress is measured.

Examples of AAT:

  • A volunteer brings her cat to a rehabilitation center to work with an occupational therapist and a child who has difficulty controlling fine motor skills. To improve the client’s fine motor skills, the therapist has the child manipulate buckles, clasps on leashes, collars, and animal carriers. The child also opens containers of treats for the cat and feeds small pieces of food to the cat. In an animal-assisted therapy session designed to improve a client’s ability to sequence events, i.e. a therapist teaches a client the steps of brushing a dog. Motivated by the opportunity to brush the dog himself, the client remembers the steps, and the therapist has the client recite the order of events aloud as he goes through the actual sequence.
  • A woman recovering from a stroke has limited standing and walking tolerance. A physical therapist uses the presence of a dog to motivate the client by placing the dog on a raised table and asking the client to stand while stroking or brushing the animal’s back and head. To increase the client’s ambulation skills, the therapist has the client walk the dog for short distances around the facility grounds. (The handler uses a double lead and walks alongside the dog and client.)