What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) falls under the umbrella of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI).

These interventions can include everything from basic visits to nursing homes or hospitals to goal-directed therapeutic interventions with trained health and education practitioners including; psychologists, physiotherapists, teachers and speech pathologists.


Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

  • The inclusion of animals in goal-directed activities overseen by a qualified professional.
  • The inclusion of the animal is necessary for achieving the desired outcome.
  • The professional is responsible for creating change with the assistance of the animal.

Areas of Intervention for Mental Health and Well-being

Nimer and Lundahl (2007) found consistent improvements in 4 main areas:

  • Autism spectrum symptoms (e.g., positive social interactions and communication)
  • Medical difficulties (e.g., heart rate, BP, motor skills & co-ordination)
  • Behavioural problems (e.g., verbal resistance, aggression, violence & compliance with rules)
  • Emotional well-being (e.g., anxiety, fear & depression)

Modes of change:

  • Social lubricant effect – e.g., increasing likeability and relatability and providing ‘neutral’ icebreakers
  • Physical illness and stress moderating effects – e.g., oxytocin release, reduction of cortisol etc
  • Psychological and Psychiatric Illness – e.g., reduced anxiety, elimination of anhedonia in schizophrenia! And helping with treatment retention rates
  • Behavioural Interventions – e.g., getting participants to train the dog, using the dog’s immediate feedback as a learning opportunity, motivation etc
  • Autism Spectrum Interventions – e.g., social lubricant plus non-judgemental nature of the dogs provides motivation for engagement and compliance
  • Academic & Learning – e.g., reading programs – reading aloud to a dog is less intimidating
  • Dementia – e.g., reduced aggression & anxiety and increase in social behaviours and reminiscence.


Adapted from: G. Fontana & M.G. Jones
Animal-Assisted Therapy for Human-Canine Teams Course Manual 2013

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