Exploring Animal-Assisted Programs with Children in School and Therapeutic Contexts
Animal-Assisted programs with children are becoming increasingly popular in school and therapeutic settings. This article provides an overview of the benefits accrued by children as well as the concerns with programs which involve animals, and therapy dogs in particular, in these environments. Research over the past 30 years indicates that therapy dogs may offer physiological, emotional, social, and physical support for children. The distinguishing features of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) are characterized by the supplemental inclusion of a trained therapy dog in reaching an intervention goal in therapeutic environments, and as a supplement to an educational objective in school contexts. The general assumptions underlying AAT with children are that although therapy dogs are interactive, children seem to perceive them as non-judgemental participants who are outside of the complications and expectations of human relationships. This unique interaction may offer children a valuable form of social and emotional support in educational and therapeutic settings.