Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) and Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)


Don’t let your dog near the computer while you read this story: The reaction would likely be: Don't Try This at Home!"


Although AAA may have one or more of the following characteristics, AAT must have all six characteristics. AAT is a more formal process than AAA.


AAA is a casual meet and greet that involves pets visiting people.  There are no specific treatment goals.  The same activity can be used with many people.  Detailed notes are unnecessary.  The visit content is spontaneous. The visit can be as long or short as desired.


AAT is a significant part of treatment for many people who are physically, socially, emotionally, or cognitively challenged.  There is a stated goal for each session. There is an individual treatment for each patient.  Notes for the patient's progress are taken at each session. The visits are scheduled usually at set intervals.  The length of visits is predetermined to best fit the needs of a patient.


According to an article entitled “Dogs Have A Nose For Inequity” (Zelkowitz, Rachel; ScienceNOW Daily News, December 2008), dogs can tell when they’re getting stiffed—and it’s not just the German shepherd police dog that can sniff out the injustice. Dogs seem to embrace the notion that equal work deserves equal pay. In random studies involving two dogs (no specific breeds were used), the tester gave each dog a treat to elicit a learned response, such as shaking paws with the tester. Then, only one dog was given an additional treat while both were still asked to offer their paws. But the ‘stiffed’ dog was less than anxious to comply---without another treat.


In those cases when only one dog was treated, the other dog’s performance dropped significantly; as that dog offered its paw only 20 times in 30 requests. Finally, after repeatedly being shortchanged while the first dog continued to receive rewards, the second dog turned up its cold, wet nose and simply stopped offering its paw.


An interesting sidebar to this test seems to indicate that dogs are more likely to engage in this behavior in the presence of another dog. (Peer pressure?) When dogs were randomly treated or refused treats in a room with only the tester, the refusal to comply with requests was much lower. The inequity of seeing another dog being treated seems to initiate this response in dogs.


While the article states that it may be too early in research to use such terms as “fairness” and “justice” in describing the cheated dog’s feelings, it is clear that most pooches seem to sense when they are getting shortchanged in the snack department

THERAPY DOGS: The Paws That Refresh

What is it about a dog that makes us feel better? What secret ingredient do they possess that brings smiles to the faces of so many people? While most of the research being conducted to study the effects of pet therapy on humans results in anecdotal records, Marian Banks (Veterans Administration Medical Center, St. Louis) and William Banks (St. Louis University School of Medicine) constructed a more concrete method of observing and measuring the components of the unique animal-human bond. In an article in the July 2002 issue of Journal of Gerontology-Medical Science, they detailed an experiment involving 45 patients who were studied for differences in behavior over a 6-week period. During this trial the designated variable group received a 30-minute therapy dog visit each week. Using an instrument known as the UCLA Loneliness Scale, Banks and Banks reported that staff noted visible changes in the mood of nursing home residents in the variable group after the therapy dog visits. In the study, William Banks noted that the residents were not confusing the dogs with childhood pets but rather recalled those memories and how much they enjoyed having an opportunity to relive that sort of experience. He referred to the residents’ behaviors as “quality of life issues”. These people were identifying something that they had enjoyed earlier in life and were happy for the chance to do it again.


While there is some evidence of pet therapy being conducted as early as the late 1700s in Europe with patients suffering from various forms of mental or emotional disorders, this past decade has seen a rise in the use of therapy animals, mostly dogs, at work in hospitals, extended care facilities, schools, libraries, and women’s centers. Perhaps at the heart of this growing field is the unconditional affection that exists between our best friends and us. Nineteenth century British author, George Eliot said that dogs, “make the most agreeable friends. They ask no questions. They pass no criticisms.” And so these agreeable creatures continue to live side by side with humans helping us discover better versions of ourselves in their company. 

If you have any further questions, please contact us.