Greer Griffith, Manager of Animal Assisted TherapyJanuary 11, 2008
Think a cuddle from your dog could light up an elderly person’s face? Maybe your cat’s company will help a child concentrate better on his reading. Whether you’re interested in getting your pet started with animal assisted therapy, or would just like to learn more about it, you’ll enjoy reading this transcript of our live chat with the ASPCA’s Manager of Animal Assisted Therapy, Greer Griffith. The chat was held at our ASPCA Online Community. For more information, and to learn more about the ASPCA’s animal assisted therapy classes for you and your dog, you can read up on the ASPCA’s affiliation with the Delta Society, a national organization that aims to improve human health through the assistance of service and therapy animals.
Here’s what Greer had to say after the chat:
Hello, everyonethank you so much for all of your wonderful questions and comments. It’s great news that so many people are interested in the work we do. Keep up the good work!
What is the difference between animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activities?
Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) provides opportunities for education and/or recreational benefits to enhance a person’s quality of life. The key feature is that specific treatment goals are not planned for each visit. An example could be a man who brings his dog to a children's hospital for a bedside visit. Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is overseen by a human health care professional as part of his or her profession. AAT is goal-directed and documented. An example of AAT is if a physical therapist wants to motivate a boy to move his left arm, the child will be asked if he wants to pet the dog with his left arm. Both AAT and AAA are equally important and beneficial.
What are the qualifications for animal assisted therapy? Would a shy dog be able to qualify?
A shy animal may be telling you that he or she doesn't enjoy meeting unfamiliar people. If your animal is uncomfortable meeting new people, it is unlikely he or she will enjoy AAT/AAA.
Is it ok to still visit if your dog is not certified for pet therapy? I organize several dog social groups, and I was approached by the recreation people at a local assisted living/nursing home to have me and members of my groups come down once a month to meet with residents at their facility.
Our position is that training and registration is important for everyone involvedanimals, handlers and clients.
Hi Greer, I went to the Delta Society website and still can’t find any info on where to go to get enrolled in classes in my area.
If there are no classes in your area, you may have to take the Delta Society Home Study Team Training Course and come to New York to be evaluated. The ASPCA does evaluations on an appointment basis.
I am having my dog evaluated for certification as a therapy dog. He has a great temperament and is trained, but he does have a tendency to jump up when greeting people. I don't want him to be disqualified for this. Do you have any suggestions about "un-training" this habit? Thanks!
One of the techniques we use is: when a dog jumps on you, turn your back to him and ignore him. Don't give him the attention he is seeking.
Where can I find out how to sign up my pet locally?
If you are not in the New York City area, go to www.deltasociety.org and look under Pet Partners. If you are in the NYC area, you can sign up for therapy dog classes on our website. The ASPCA also offers a two-day Delta Society Team Training workshop three times a year. Look for information about it on our website soon.
I have an M2 who was a therapy bird most of his life in Michigan, and he has been invited to a few nursing homes here in Texas. Do I need any special permits?
Was your bird registered with an organization? If so, then they will know if the certification can be transferred state to state.
How long does it take to train a dog to become a therapy dog? Does it depend on the dog’s personality?
There is definitely training involved in preparing both you and your dog for this work. You are judged as a team. Classes may vary depending on the trainer. For example, the courses we offer at the ASPCA are six weeks each. The first class is basic obedience that a dog must know to be a good therapy dog, and the second class prepares you and your dog for the Delta Society evaluation. Results can vary depending on how much people apply what they have learned in classes.
Hi, Greer! I am a graduate student, and am getting my masters in occupational therapy. I came to this field to practice AAT. Do you know of any groups/resources where I can connect with AAT professionalsor where I can go to find AAT practitioners? Thanks much!
The Delta Society has a national database of resources. They should be able to help you with this. Many occupational therapists aren't aware of the benefits of AAT. It is wonderful that you are aware of the tremendous benefits and hopefully you can educate others about AAT.
Update: We now have an AAT group on our ASPCA Online Community!
I work at an elementary school as a counselor, and would like to take my dog with me. I feel that he could be very beneficial for both classroom guidance lessons, as well as in individual sessions. What is the appropriate way to approach this once my pet is a certified Pet Partner?
There is no doubt your dog can be beneficial for classroom guidance as well as individual sessions. As you study how to become a Pet Partner, you will learn that the time frame is approximately an hour for an animal to be in a visiting situation. It is critical to be aware of the complexity of the environment that you are working in and the length of time your dog is in that environment. Again, one hour is usually what is recommended for the dog's well-being.
Can cats participate in therapy visits, too?
Yes, cats can participate in therapy visits. They take a test similar to the one a dog takes.
I have two dogs who were rescued from a neglectful situation when they were just four months old. They have an awesome temperament and are very close to each other. I really believe they can each serve the community by becoming therapy dogs; is it possible to take them both on therapy sessions once they get trained and certified?
I have two wonderful registered black Labs, so yes, you can have two therapy dogs. However, you can only visit with one dog at a time. The reason for this is that it is very challenging to pay the proper attention to your client, your dog and the environment you are in with just one dog.
How can I know if my dog is good enough to start being a therapy dog?
Here are some things to think about:
1) Does your dog like people/strangers and other dogs?
2) Is your dog reliable? Can you depend on him to behave?
3) Are his reactions predictable?
4) Is he controllable?
I have been doing AAT with my dogs since the 1990’s. I just don't know where to start with my miniature horses. I am a mentor at a local school. I have been working with animals since the 80s. I am a psychology student. My plan is to start an organization here in Delaware that will provide AAT for children in foster care. I really like using the horses because I have found that they help children with "social issues." My horses have helped some kids have some self esteem and hold their heads high (you have to do this in order to lead a horse). My horses’ temperaments are fantastic. One of my minis is a fantastic ambassador for the breed. Thanks.
The Delta Society does register horses (and many other domestic animals) and they can also provide guidelines for setting up a program.
What are the “Go Say Hi” training classes? And how do you attend one?
The ASPCA’s "Go Say Hi" training classes were developed by Michelle Siegel. This class prepares you and your dog for the Delta Society evaluation. It is only available in New York City and you may sign up for it on our website.
What are the early warning signs that an elderly therapy dog should retire gracefully? One of the things I like about the Delta Society is that they retest every two years, so I assume they see signs of change due to aging that can affect a dog’s ability to volunteer.
Thank you for your question. If your dog behaves differently than normal and doesn't appear to have the same enthusiasm going to work, this is a sign that he or she may be ready to retire. I would suggest that you pay close attention to your dog's body language and look for signs of stress or physical discomfort.