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How It Helps

The integration of certified therapy animals into traditional therapy is limited only by the imagination of the handlers, teachers and/or therapists. And since children with special needs have varying degrees of difficulty in many areas of their every day lives, the following are some examples of the methods we employ to improve their underdeveloped skills with the help of a dog:

Fine Motor Skills – Using scissors to cut out paper “treats” for the dog, drawing a picture of the dog, and clipping on the dog’s leash.

Gross Motor Skills – Throwing a ball for the dog, playing “tug-o-war” with the dog, squeezing a ball, playing “follow the leader”, and brushing the dog.

Speech – Practicing and, therefore, recognizing words, issuing commands to the dog, reading aloud to the dog, identifying the dog by parts (head, ears, tail, e.g.), size (big or small), and color.

Social Skills – Playing games with the dog (taking turns), recognizing what constitutes the child’s personal space, what constitutes “appropriate touch”, and understanding his/her emotions.

All pet therapy teams utilize “activity kits” to use during their sessions and include such items as:

Multiple types of dog brushes — these allow the child to feel and understand their different textures.

Multiple interactive dog puzzles and mazes – these enable the child to practice and improve his/her problem-solving and social skills.

A collapsible travel dog bowl – this allows the child to practice nurturing techniques and develop his/her fine motor skills while following the directions of a handler, teacher or therapist.

Some of the other benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy include increased self-esteem, trust, empathy and team work; improved balance, focus, attention, motivation and self control; and decreased anxiety, depression and isolation.

To our delight, some children who spoke only two to three words before AAT are now speaking in complete sentences. Those who never wanted to interact with others are now engaging fully with their peers and with adults. For us, this is only the beginning — and a very “pawsitive” one.

The national average for children diagnosed with Autism is 1 in 59, while Arizona’s rate is 1 in 64. One in 40 are boys. As for children in general with disabilities, Arizona’s rate is 4.3% compared with the national average of 5%. Arizona ranks second in the country as a state that provides services for children on the Autism Spectrum. Children diagnosed with Autism is just one several special needs diagnosis we serve in the community.

Animal Assisted Therapy makes use of trained animal and handler teams as an integral part of a goal-oriented treatment plan for individuals with individual special needs. The variety of animals used includes, but isn’t limited to, dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, birds and horses. Because animals are accepting and non-judgmental, they make it easier for people to feel more relaxed and more comfortable during their personal treatment sessions.

Unlike Animal Assisted Therapy used in nursing homes and hospitals, our handler and therapy dog teams deal solely with special needs children, their visits together last longer, and are goal orientated. Aided by the gentle and unconditional love of our highly trained animals, our teams help these students improve physically, socially and emotionally, as well as in the areas of self-regulation and motivation. Our ultimate goal is to improve and strengthen both their skills and their character traits, giving them the added confidence, they need in order to achieve their personal goals.

Each team works with the same child on a regular basis, is directly involved with that child’s other, ongoing therapy, and not only forms a friendship with that child, but also observes that child’s developmental growth.

Some of the Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

  • Improves fine motor skills
  • Improves balance
  • Improves focus, attention and motivation
  • Increases trust, empathy and team work
  • Increases self-esteem
  • Decreases anxiety, depression and isolation
  • Improves social skills
  • Improves self-control

Some of the Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy


Pawsitive Friendships uses a 1:1 model for Animal Assisted Therapy. The facilities we work with have licensed therapists and/or teachers, who know the children best and are trained to tailor their treatments to meet the specific needs of each special needs child. Since our trained handlers know their animals best, we’ve taken the two and merged them.

Each dog/handler team works with the assigned therapist and/or teacher to help their particular child reach his or her individual goals. Should the child need a break during the combined session, the therapist/teacher can continue working with the child while our team steps back, and vice versa. We believe this 1:1 model is the safest for all parties involved.

How to Become a Pet Therapy Team

Would you like to become the “human” part of a Pet Therapy Team but don’t know how or where to start? We can help.
Does your dog already know the basic sit, stay, and down commands? Does your dog know how to loose leash walk?  If so, you’ve already started.

Your dog must be at least one year of age and have lived with you, the potential handler, for at least 6 months.
Your dog must be reliably potty trained.
Your dog must pass a thorough health screening by your veterinarian and be up-to-date on all vaccines.

For further information on Therapy Dog training courses, we recommend Angel Dogs Training.  Please tell them Pawsitive Friendships referred you.

All Pawsitive Friendships Pet Therapy teams MUST be registered with Pet Partners or Alliance of Therapy Dogs.  Why? Because once you’re a registered team, you’re covered under their volunteer liability insurance policy.
For further information on how to become a registered Pet Therapy team through Pet Partners, Click Here
For further information on how to become a registered Pet Therapy team through Alliance of Therapy Dogs Click Here.

Due to the clients we provide services to it is required that all of our volunteers have an IVP Fingerprint clearance card. We recommend you contact AZ Live Scan ( for your fingerprinting needs.

It is required at some locations we serve to have CPR/First Aid training.

Congratulations on becoming a registered Pet Therapy team! Please contact us at your convenience to schedule your orientation. Once this has been successfully completed, we will work to find the facility that would best suit you and your dog. For further information or to schedule your orientation, please visit or call Tosha at (480)353-7833.

Laura Ibsen Pet Therapy Program
In Loving Memory of Laura Ibsen
Laura Ibsen Pet Therapy Program

In February 2018, Laura Ibsen passed away due to complications from autoimmune diseases. Laura dedicated over ten years of her young life to Pet Therapy, starting in 2005 when she first visited Chandler Regional Hospital with her therapy dog, Patches. After that, she became an evaluator for Pet Partners, evaluating potential Pet Therapy teams in Arizona. She was also the Pet Therapy Team Lead at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center and volunteered at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Here, at Pawsitive Friendships, Laura, Patches and then Scooter, volunteered countless invaluable hours working one-on-one with various children on a weekly basis. 
With degrees in Elementary Education and Special Education, she was ideal for us. She used every moment as a teaching moment for the benefit of the children and worked diligently and devotedly to ensure each child’s success. When one youngster was afraid of getting a haircut, Laura encouraged her to use a child’s scissors to “cut” Scooter’s hair during one of their occupational therapy sessions. Then, on her own time, she and Scooter accompanied the child’s family to the salon to help her have a haircut while she repeated that same exercise.  
Laura’s compassion for and commitment to others was unparalleled, and this Pet Therapy Training Program is designed to honor her memory and her legacy. Its goal is to train and register new Pet Therapy teams whose human handlers have hearts as warm and loving as hers. Once registered, these teams will volunteer with Pawsitive Friendships for a two-year term. 
Applications for the Laura Ibsen Pet Therapy Training program will be accepted on a per diem basis, and before applying, all interested candidates are urged to review the requirements listed below.
Animal Requirements: 

  • Must be one year old at time of evaluation
  • Must have lived with owner for at least 6 months
  • Must be current with vaccines
  • Must have no history of aggression
  • Must demonstrate basic obedience skills

Handler Requirements: 

  • Must be 18 years or older.
  • Must “read” their animal’s body language and recognize when their animal is stressed, anxious, concerned, over stimulated or fatigued.
  • Must interact positively with their animal by praising, cueing, encouraging and reassuring their animal as needed.
  • Must cue or redirect their animal without raising their voice, forcefully jerking on the leash or offering their animal food or toys.
  • Must be able to engage in casual conversation with those they meet on their visits while still being attentive to their animal.
  • Must guide the interactions of others with their animal in a polite and professional manner during therapy sessions.
  • Must be mindful of and “advocate for” the safety and wellbeing of their animal at all times during therapy sessions.
  • Must attend weekly pet therapy training classes for 6 to 10 weeks in addition to completing assigned team “homework.”
  • Must attend an animal handler course through Pet Partners. Achieving a Certificate of Completion to become a registered animal therapy team. 
  • Must attend Pawsitive Friendships training/orientation.
  • Must undergo and pass a fingerprint check and have no criminal background. 
  • Must be available for one therapy session a week at a school or clinic associated with Pawsitive Friendships for the term of their Pet Partners registration (two years). 
  • Must demonstrate professionalism, compassion for individuals with special needs, and respect for their privacy in compliance with HIPAA.

If you are interested in submitting an application or learning more about the program, please contact Tosha at