Many people wish to enroll their pets in an animal-assisted activity (AAA) or animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program. First, let us start with defining the difference between the two. Professionals discourage the term "pet therapy" because it actually refers to animal behavior training programs.
According to the Delta Society, a non-profit organization that encourages the use of companion animals to promote human health, animal-assisted activities are casual meetings between people and pets. There is no "session" between pet and person – activities are spontaneous. Likewise, there are no specific goals for treatment, and notes are not taken. The purpose is to bring a smile and some sunshine into someone's life.
For instance, visiting a nursing home with your pet and allowing residents to touch and pet your dog, without the presence of a doctor or therapist, would be considered an animal-assisted activity.
You should also be aware that these participants do not necessarily have to be a dog or cat. Well-behaved and approved pets such as birds, rabbits and guinea pigs can also be used in some programs.
On the other hand, animal-assisted therapy has a defined goal to treat a problem, and progress is measured carefully. The animal meets specific criteria to achieve that goal under the supervision of a medical professional. The sessions are carefully constructed to meet the treatment goals.
There are a number of organizations that are involved with training human and pet volunteers. The Delta Society is a good place to start. (You do not necessarily have to own or volunteer your pet. You can help organize events, assist setting up workshops and screenings, among other activities.)
You and your pet will undergo training and preparation in order to perform animal-assisted therapy.
First, your pet will be examined to ensure he is healthy and has had all necessary vaccinations. You will also need to show that you have basic control over your pet and that he knows the basic commands. In addition, he will go through training exercises that simulate the conditions he will likely work in.
Next, a training session is held. The length of sessions can vary from a day to more than 12 weeks, depending on the intensity of the program.
So, which is it for you and your dog AAA or AAT?