Dogs, often known as a man’s best friend, are always there to cheer our spirits when we are down and lick away our tears, easing our worries away. They comfort us so well that they are used widely within the medical field providing Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT).

AAT promotes numerous benefits including improvement in physical, social, emotional, psychosocial, and/or cognitive function. Additionally, AAT improves quality of life, builds trust, and facilitates communication — similar to benefits gained within an occupational therapy session.

Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) is an umbrella term encompassing four areas: animal-assisted activity; animal-assisted therapy; animal-assisted education; and animal support. AAT is an innovative intervention incorporating an animal within a treatment session which is integrated in the patient’s existing goals.

During an AAT session, a licensed healthcare professional, such as a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA), delivers the therapy session. To deliver services, the practitioner must hold specialized AAT training, along with a certain level of liability insurance to ensure the safety of the patient and the animal while practicing.

A support dog also provides numerous therapeutic benefits; however, the tasks the dog performs are directly related to a person’s disability who they are permanently placed with. The support dog is not used under the direction of a licensed professional and does not work to achieve patient specific goals for rehabilitation. Liability insurance is not required to obtain a support dog for individual needs.

Before any dog will be considered to provide therapeutic benefits during an AAT session, it must specifically be educated, trained, and evaluated by a reputable company. After completing the requirements, the dog must be properly certified and, of course, up to date on all vaccinations.

Needless to say, dogs are a great therapeutic tool to be used to improve quality of life, develop motor skills, build trust, and facilitate communication. Many licensed professionals such as certified occupational therapy assistants, speech language pathologists, physical therapists, clinical psychologists, counselors, nurses, and many more have the ability to gain this specialized training.

Alexandria R. Walenz

1624 Jerry Drive

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