How to Get a Therapy Dog

By Myra Davis

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) involves the use of animals to help humans deal with physical or emotional issues. While humans have enjoyed a long relationship with animals, it wasn’t until the 1700s that an association with animals and therapy occurred. Therapists discovered that children were more responsive to treatment when an animal was involved. Over time, scientific studies analyzed the effectiveness of AAT, with startling results. Though AAT may not be as mainstream as some would like, it is much more common to see dogs, cats, horses, and dolphins serving in therapeutic roles.

History of Animal-Assisted Therapy

Humans have long regarded animals as having magical or mystical powers. Ancient cultures revered certain animals as god-like. Much of their use in therapy originates from these early beliefs. The association between animals and human therapy didn’t take shape until William Tuke used domesticated animals with patients in the York Retreat hospital for the mentally ill. Sigmund Freud also used therapy dogs in his practice. Throughout the 20th century, therapeutic animals were used on an exploratory basis with many psychiatrists, physicians, and counselors documenting the results. Today, therapeutic animals are frequently used in juvenile detention programs, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, prisons, and mental hospitals.

Types of AAT

There are various types of AAT. While dogs are the most popular animal used in therapy, many animals provide therapeutic services. Equine or horse therapy is also very popular. Children who are suffering from emotional or mental health issues respond very well to animal-assisted therapy. Dolphin-assisted therapy is a program that is growing in popularity. It has been shown effective for those dealing with different phobias and anxiety issues. Canines are a popular animal used for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.


Animal-assisted therapy provides many benefits and has been shown to improve physical and mental health. Those suffering from physical ailments may find that AAT helps lower blood pressure, reduces pain, and releases much-needed endorphins. Senior citizens and the elderly may find that AAT results in improved cardiovascular well-being and provides a general sense of improved mood. Those suffering from depression can see improved emotional health from AAT. Animal-assisted therapy boasts many benefits and is used to treat a wide array of conditions.

AAT Certification

Several organizations provide AAT certification. There are also college courses one may take should you want to be certified. The ASPCA connects with Pet Partners and provides resources for those looking for AAT certification. You can access community leaders who provide AAT service animals. Additionally, you may connect with leaders who will train you and your service animal to become AAT certified.


  • Animal-Assisted Therapy Can Help: The Department of Veterans Affairs highlights the impact therapy animals have when working with vets.
  • APCA Animal-Assisted Therapy Programs: The ASPCA explains the benefits of therapy animals and shows how one becomes a registered service provider.
  • Pet Partners: Learn what different types of animal-assisted activities are with this industry resource.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy and PTSD ( The U.S. Navy looks at the benefits of using animal-assisted therapy for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Canine-Assisted Therapy in Military Medicine: The United States Army Medical Department looks at the history of using canine-assisted therapy in military and nonmilitary settings.
  • The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Anxiety Ratings of Hospitalized Psychiatric Patients: Psychiatry Online examines the objectives, methods, and results derived from using AAT with psychiatric patients.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy Effects on Loneliness in an Elderly Population in Long-Term Care Facilities: This study published in the Oxford Journal shows that AAT is beneficial in reducing loneliness in elderly patients who were former pet owners.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy in Counseling: Learn about the benefits and advantages of AAT in counseling.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy in Patients Hospitalized with Heart Failure: The American Journal of Critical Care examines the use of AAT with heart patients.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy: Magic or Medicine? The Journal of Psychosomatic Research examines the history of AAT and asks whether the therapy has been scientifically verified.
  • Animal-Facilitated Therapy in Various Patient Populations: A systematic literature review discusses the role of AAT in the lives of people.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy Outcomes: This report looks at AAT and autism and discusses the benefits as well as considerations for using this therapy.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy for Dementia: A Review of the Literature: The International Psychogeriatric Association looks at methods and results of using AAT with those suffering from dementia.
  • Animal-Assisted Therapy: A New Trend in the Treatment of Children and Adults: The Institute of Psychiatry at Clinical Centre Serbia provides this overview of AAT and discusses its benefits and outcomes.
  • Human-Animal Interaction Research Initiative: HAIRI examines the relationship between humans and animals and explores scientific studies verifying the benefits of AAT.

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