Animal Assisted Therapy (A.A.T.) as well as Animal Assisted Activities (A.A.A.) are fields that are developping rather quickly in today's society.
Animal Assisted Therapy (A.A.T.)
We have all heard or seen documentaries on the use of horses (hippotherapy) in order to improve the daily life of people living with a physical or mental handicap. The contact, the relationship with the animal often allows the beneficiary to "get out" of their shell, to enjoy some feeling of freedom, complicity, and comfort that no other circumstances can offer - no matter how devoted and able the family, friends and medical staff are. Those shared moments are somehow "selfish", in that the only thing that matters at that very moment is the "patient"/animal team.
Of course, horses are not the only type of animals used in A.A.T. Dolphins are known to easily create bonds that will greatly benefit those who come into contact with them.
In the case of dogs, the wide variety of size, weight, temperament, ... that come with breeds allow for an even bigger flexibility of A.A.T. And let's not forget that dogs live in our houses and can thus offer a lasting, even permanent presence.
In practical terms, the A.A.T. dog will work as mediator, a privileged link between the person and their helpers (in the medical field in general but not only).
The dog is very carefully chosen and received a specific type of training in order to allow him, when of age, to carry his "mission(s)" with maximum safety for all parties involved.
What kind of "job" can the dog be expected to do once trained sufficiently to be handed over to a patient? Well, in a psychologist office for instance, his proximity can become the "key" that will help unlock the protective lock that a person in great emotional distress has placed on themselves. The dog can also be a "learning incentive" in special needs schools or for people in rehabilitation after an accident.
Animal Assisted Activities (A.A.A.)
A.A.A. is a close relative of A.A.T. The choice of dogs and their training is practically identical, but the actual job is of a different kind.
In this case, the dog will meet senior citizens for instance, but not "just" for a visit. His training will allow him to "team up" with the person and work through a fun course of obstacles - the health and mobility of the elderly will obviously have been taken into account while setting up.
The dog can also take part in all sorts of games with children or teenagers and thus "mix" having fun with a deeper purpose such as (re)learning to gain confidence in oneself.