Sunday, October 10, 2010

Animal Assisted Activity Program

Animal Assisted Activity Program    

After several years of bugging work to allow me to bring my dogs in to play with the youths I have finally got the go ahead to begin an Animal Assisted Activity Program. On a regular basis the dogs and I will begin providing an individual approach to improve the literacy and communication skills of our youths in confilict with the law by employing a powerful method: reading out loud to the dog. The program utilizes the companionship of my dogs to build and encourage the youth's love of books and allows the participant to practice a broader range of communication skills in a safe, non-judgmental environment. The reading session is then concluded with an outdoor play session for the youth and the dog in order to support the program as an enjoyable event for all involved.
Animal Assisted Activity is a type of therapy that involves an animal with specific characteristics becoming a fundamental part of influencing a youth's motivation for personal growth. Animal-assisted therapy is designed to improve the physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning of the participant, as well as to provide educational and motivational effectiveness for the participants.
Many kinds of animals are used in Animal Assisted Therapy, including dogs, cats, birds, dolphins, horses, rabbits, lizards, llamas, and other small animals. Such animals are often referred to as "comfort animals".
Benefits (1A)


  • Improve fine motor skills.
  • Improve gross motor skills.
  • Increase physical activity.
  • It is believed that AAT may also lower blood pressure (1) (2), alleviate stress and anxiety (3), as well as decrease depression (4).


  • Increase vocabulary.
  • Aid in long- or short-term memory.
  • Improve knowledge of concepts, such as size, color, etc.
  • Increase attention span. (5)
  • Improved knowledge of responsible dog ownership


  • Improve willingness to be involved in the reading activity.
  • Supports the reading experience (i.e. learn to enjoy reading for the sake of reading)
  • Improve interactions with staff. (5)
  • Improve interactions with others (5)


  • Increase verbal interactions.
  • Increase attention skills (i.e. staying on task). (5)
  • Develop leisure/recreation skills.
  • Increase self-esteem. (5)
  • Reduce anxiety. (3)
  • Reduce loneliness.
  • Learn to trust.
  • Enhance quality of life through the human-animal bond.
  • Draws attention outward.
  • Turns off anxiety, anger and depression. (3) (4)
  • Creates a feeling of safety
  • Increases positive expectations of both self and others


(1) Physiological effects of human/companion animal bonding.

Baun MM, Bergstrom N, Langston NF, Thoma L


Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate were recorded in 24 subjects during 3 9-minute measurement sessions in which they petted an unknown dog, petted a dog with whom a companion bond had been established, or read quietly. Based on the findings of this study, several conclusions were drawn: (1) There is a significant difference in changes over time in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure between petting a dog with whom a companion bond has been established and petting a dog with whom no bond exists; (2) the decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure that occur during petting a dog with whom a companion bond has been established parallel the relaxation effect of quiet reading; and (3) there is a " greeting response" to the entry of a dog with whom a companion bond has been established, which results in significantly higher systolic and diastolic pressures than the response either to an unknown dog or to reading.
PMID: 6563527 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
(1A) Therapy Dogs International
 Perceptions of the Impact of Pet Therapy on Residents/Patients and Staff in Facilities Visited by Therapy Dogs

 (2) Animal-assisted therapy in patients hospitalized with heart failure.

Cole KM, Gawlinski A, Steers N, Kotlerman J
University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


BACKGROUND: Animal-assisted therapy improves physiological and psychosocial variables in healthy and hypertensive patients.
OBJECTIVES: To determine whether a 12-minute hospital visit with a therapy dog improves hemodynamic measures, lowers neurohormone levels, and decreases state anxiety in patients with advanced heart failure.
METHODS: A 3-group randomized repeated-measures experimental design was used in 76 adults. Longitudinal analysis was used to model differences among the 3 groups at 3 times. One group received a 12-minute visit from a volunteer with a therapy dog; another group, a 12-minute visit from a volunteer; and the control group, usual care. Data were collected at baseline, at 8 minutes, and at 16 minutes.
RESULTS: Compared with controls, the volunteer-dog group had significantly greater decreases in systolic pulmonary artery pressure during (-4.32 mm Hg, P = .03) and after (-5.78 mm Hg, P = .001) and in pulmonary capillary wedge pressure during (-2.74 mm Hg, P = .01) and after (-4.31 mm Hg, P = .001) the intervention. Compared with the volunteer-only group, the volunteer-dog group had significantly greater decreases in epinephrine levels during (-15.86 pg/mL, P = .04) and after (-17.54 pg/mL, P = .04) and in norepinephrine levels during (-232.36 pg/mL, P = .02) and after (-240.14 pg/mL, P = .02) the intervention. After the intervention, the volunteer-dog group had the greatest decrease from baseline in state anxiety sum score compared with the volunteer-only (-6.65 units, P =.002) and the control groups (-9.13 units, P < .001).
CONCLUSIONS: Animal-assisted therapy improves cardiopulmonary pressures, neurohormone levels, and anxiety in patients hospitalized with heart failure.
PMID: 17962502 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]