A day in the life of an AAT dog

People often ask what exactly we do with our therapy dogs in sessions so I thought I’d do a bit of a run down of a typical day at our Windermere office.

9.30 – We arrive at work and gather up our dog-friendly office supplies like; the water bowl, bed and blanket. This usually takes around 15 minutes as Rory and Jersey tend to attract a lot of attention, cuddles and pats from the other staff members and sometimes visitors.

Getting early morning cuddles from the staff before work actually starts.

However today the office was pretty quiet so it only took us 5 minutes to gather everything together and set up the office (see video).

10.30 – Is usually when we start seeing clients. Sometimes I work directly with the dogs in the sessions (AAT) and sometimes it’s more of an animal-assisted intervention (AAI), where the dog’s presence alone is of benefit and comfort to the client. For example, one of our clients is a young woman with a significant trauma history. She has problems with self-worth and confidence and is currently depressed. She often looks drawn and tired and walks with hunched shoulders. Rory always greets her with tail-wagging and a happy bounce and I swear the client’s face just lights up and she walks taller. She looks lighter and more relaxed than at any other time that I see her and loves to sit with Rory on her lap while we talk.

An example of a more typical AAT session would be how the girls and I are working with a young girl with low-functioning autism who has severe expressive language and anxiety issues. She finds it very hard when visiting new places and extremely hard separating from her mother. She met Jersey at her first session and quickly decided that wherever Jersey was going, she wanted to go too! This made the transition to the therapy room immeasurably easier and the dogs now provide an indirect way for the client to communicate as well as serving as role models for; appropriate boundary setting, emotional regulation and social skills development. For example, we spent some time showing the client how to correct the dog for getting too “up close and personal” (i.e., Rory licking!) without losing her temper, getting frustrated or even needing to use verbal language. Her mother says this has already translated into improved responses in her interactions with other children at school.

1.30 – This is our lunch break, and we always go for a short walk to clear our heads! While I’m catching up on paperwork the dogs are usually snoozing on their bed, it’s tiring work being a therapy dog! Often this is also when staff members might drop by for a cuddle or two – and the girls never object.

It’s a hard life.

2.30 – Over the course of the afternoon we’ll normally see another 3 or 4 clients. Sometimes the girls will be working directly with the client in an AAT capacity, such as; helping a child to follow instructions and pass them on (via trick training), working on emotional identification or empathy development (“How do you think Rory is feeling right now?” or “How do you think Jersey would feel if…”) or social skills and sharing via a human versus canine version of Simon Says…

At other times watching the client interact with the dog may give me a lot of valuable information that informs my assessment, diagnosis and/or treatment, e.g., the young boy who teases Rory (who is bouncy and ‘loud’ like his older brother) but who is incredibly gentle and affectionate with Jersey (who is much quieter and shy like him), or the teenage girl with esteem and attachment issues who can’t understand why the dogs like her and want pats from her.

Finally, sometimes, just having the dogs there for cuddles and affection is all the client needs. And at the end of a long day, it’s sometimes exactly what the therapist needs too! We usually finish up with clients by about 5.30 and then it’s time to pack the room back up, and head home for dinner.

The dogs are usually pretty tired by the end of a day like that which is why I try to avoid working with the same dog two days in a row, it gives them a break and gives the clients a chance to work with both dogs at different times.

I hope you enjoyed this little sneak peek into a typical day working with my girls!




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