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.