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Understanding Animal Therapy 

If you’re interested in learning more about the world of animal-assisted interventions, you’re in the right place! The first step to understanding animal-assisted interventions is to have a grasp on the terminology. With animal-assisted interventions gaining popularity, more and more terms have been created to attempt to describe these services. As a therapy animal organization we are committed to using appropriate terminology, not only to maintain our gold standard, but in order to accurately promote and advance our field.

NOTE: The term “pet therapy” is misleading and should be avoided. It was widely used several decades ago to refer to animal training programs. The preferred terms that we use today (AAT, AAE, AAA) imply that the animal is acting as a motivating force to enhance the treatment provided by a well-trained person.

Human-Animal Bond

The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that positively influences the health and well-being of both. Dr. Leo Bustad, one of the founders of Delta Society (now Pet Partners), is credited with creating this term and definition.

Animal-Assisted Interventions

(AAI) Animal-assisted interventions are goal-oriented and structured interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education, and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. Think of this as an umbrella term. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), animal-assisted education (AAE), and animal-assisted activities (AAA) are all forms of animal-assisted interventions. In all of these interventions, the animal may be part of a volunteer therapy animal team working under the direction of a professional or an animal that belongs to the professional himself.

Animal-Assisted Activity

(AAA) Animal-assisted activities provide opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. While more informal in nature, these activities are delivered by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional, and/or volunteer, in partnership with an animal that meets specific criteria for suitability.

Human-Animal Interaction

This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

(AAT) Animal-assisted therapy is a goal-oriented, planned, structured, and documented therapeutic intervention directed by health and human service providers as part of their profession. A wide variety of disciplines may incorporate AAT. Possible practitioners could include physicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, certified therapeutic recreation specialists, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, or mental health professionals.

Animal-Assisted Education

(AAE) Animal-assisted education is a goal-oriented, planned, and structured intervention directed by a general education or special education professional. The focus of the activities is on academic goals, prosocial skills, and cognitive functioning with student progress being both measured and documented.

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