What types of animals are used in AAT?

Flash loves to play group fetch!
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There are lots of questions floating around about what types of animals are used in AAT, and what type of animal is “best”. The truth is that many types of animals can be used in AAT, and a well-qualified therapist will be able to direct the session, while encompassing the animal’s behaviour, to best benefit the client.Â

While there is no best animal for use in AAT, different species bring different strengths, and even each individual animal finds things they are good at and things they don’t like to do. For example, some dogs may excel in group therapy, as they are happy to interact with multiple people at once.Â

One of Chimo’s certified therapy dogs, Flash, is always happy to play “group fetch”, where he brings the toy back to a different person each time! He wants everyone to be included in the game. In contrast, some dogs will get overwhelmed in a group situation, and they prefer to sit and cuddle with one person.

Here are a few characteristics of a few different species of animals, which may help to guide your choice of what animal to consider working with in AAT sessions.

Dogs:

most common in urban settings, and easy to bring into offices, hospitals, etc.
Provide unconditional love
Can be used passively, such as petting the dog, or actively such as walking the dog or having it do tricks
many people have past experiences with dogs, providing a starting point for a conversation about their past
 Cats:

can teach clients about boundaries, as they are often quite reactive
can be used to comfort clients
work on fine motor skills through petting and brushing and
are not as intimidating to some clients as dogs
Horses:

Shanti is a miniature therapy horse, seen here with her canine buddy, Marley.

Motivators to participate
can teach clients about boundaries, as they are often quite reactive
Excellent mirrors for client behavior
Can be used for both physical and psychological/emotional therapy
Small animals, such as guinea pigs and rabbits often have a place in classroom settings as they are easy to manage. Teachers can focus on teaching empathy, calm behaviour (so as not to scare the animal), animal care skills, and even involve the animal in lessons throughout the curriculum. Turning math problems into figuring out how much food the rabbit needs, for example, can motivate students to take an interest in math.

As we can see, many species and many individual animals are appropriate for use in AAT. They will all bring their own specialities to the therapy session, and a therapist must get to know the animals they are working with.Â

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