15 Reasons Animal Assisted Therapy Works

Animal assisted therapy can be more effective than traditional talk therapy because:

1) Animals can increase a person’s motivation and participation in therapy.

A person who is resistant to coming into traditional therapy may be more excited to come in and interact with the animal present.

2) Animals can help build trust with the therapist and can make the therapy room feel like a safe place

When a person learns about the therapists animal, if begins to develop a connection between the person and the therapist. This creates trust between them, allowing the person to feel safe and not threatened.

3) Animals can improve everyone’s social interactions

Animals are playful, funny, spontaneous, and sometimes even moody. Animal assisted therapy breaks down social barriers and enables easy communication.

4) Dogs offer unconditional acceptance

A dog is always happy to see you. He will not judge you, hold a grudge, and is happy to see you no matter who you are.

5) People may identify with certain animals or characteristics of animals

Did you ever play the animal game growing up? “If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” People may use animals as metaphors for problems in their own life. They may identify with personality characteristics in animals and relate them to themselves or other people they know.

6) Animals can help people relax when anxious or upset

Research shows significant changes in peoples physiological arousal when in the presence of an animal. Clients can also focus on ways to relax, slow their breathing, and gain control of their feelings.

7) Animals can provide support for us socially and emotionally

They allow us to want to be social. Animals show their feelings directly, allowing us to learn how to be more free in expressing our own feelings. They allow us to learn different ways to communicate.

8) Some people have difficult connecting with others

Animals provide a unique way for people to learn how to develop strong and intimate bonds and break out of awkward or distant connections with others.

9) Animals make learning new things easier

Every opportunity with an animal can present opportunities to learn something about yourself or others around you. Their presence allows for people to learn quickly and easily what might take much longer in traditional therapy.

10) The presence of an animal in therapy allows for the focus to be on the animal instead of on the client

Feeling less pressure to open up or having to answer questions actually allows for people to open up more quickly and deeply as the animal disarms our normal defenses.

11) Animals may help children who have ADHD

Imagine asking an ADHD child to do three things and complete all of them. They probably will have a great deal of trouble doing this. However, asking these kids to take three steps in training a dog can often be completed. This teaches sequencing, follow through, and patience.

12) A person may see his or her own feelings and issues in the animal

Sometimes, it is easier for us to deal with a problem if we first see it in another person or animal. We develop strategies for how the animal could work out the problem. This then leads to us being more open to doing similar things for our own problem.

13) Dogs are funny and playful

Their playful nature and energy is contagious. Quickly, people are playing and relaxing during a session.

14) Animals promote empathy and nurturance

Animals can help us develop the ability to be empathic toward others. Caring for animals teaches us how to care for ourselves and others.

15) Animals can improve self-esteem

As a child interacts with an animal, they may learn something about themselves or others. For example, they may teach a dog a new trick. This allows a person to feel competent and develops self esteem.


Loosely taken from: Professional Therapy Dogs of Colorado: Handler’s Guide and Training Manual. (2012).

The Furry Therapist: How Dogs Aid Psychotherapy

Therapy DogResearch and my personal observations show that a well-trained therapy dog often is a patient’s best friend during counseling sessions. Brief interactions with therapy dogs can decrease production of the stress hormone epinephrine, reduce blood pressure and decrease anxiety.

Dogs can be ideal healers if they themselves are loved, treated well and properly trained for animal assisted therapy (AAT). They excel at therapeutic interactions — such as cuddling up against a withdrawn child — and give love unconditionally. Friendly, non-judgmental and well behaved, an animal assisted therapy dog helps put a patient at ease.

That’s a good description for my furry co-therapist, Zeke.

A Seeing Heart Dog
Zeke quickly tunes in to the moods of young children, teens and adults troubled by a wide range of problems including autism, child abuse and neglect, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Not only is he one of my most loyal and trusted friends but also one of my best resources for relaxing patients. Zeke helps patients reduce their anxiety and feel comfortable.

Zeke does this with restraint. He gently approaches patients only when they welcome him and give permission through their words and actions. Of course, as an AAT dog he is also trained to pay close attention to my carefully directed cues. Zeke is what some therapists call a ‘seeing heart dog.’

During these interactions, I read the body language — both of Zeke and patients who may be having trouble sharing — to gain valuable information that helps me understand patient states of mind and what questions to ask to facilitate discussion.

Nothing to Sneeze At
Zeke generally won’t make you sneeze or feel itchy. He is a Labradoodle, which means he is part Labrador and part poodle. As with poodles, Labradoodles are hypoallergenic and usually don’t cause allergic reactions.

Similar to both breeds, Labradoodles are gentle and intelligent. So Zeke is well cut out for care giving and aiding in problem solving. His fur and his loving concern are nothing to sneeze at.