There are many certification programs available for individuals wishing to become involved with animal assisted therapy (AAT). There are also options for pet owners who just want to volunteer.
The University of Denver (in Colorado) offers an Animals & Human Health certificate that requires one on-campus course and three online courses. The on-campus course is the capstone, which involves student presentations, group work, and interaction with animal therapy professionals. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent practical experience in animal assisted therapy. The program cost is $3,500 plus a one-time application fee of $25 for registration (lodging and travel costs for the campus portion are not included). The program fee can be paid as a lump sum or in installments.
The Animal Behavior Institute offers a certificate program in animal assisted therapy that is conducted entirely online. The certificate is designed for those working as therapists, social workers, educators, and healthcare workers. The program involves five courses that take ten weeks each to complete. The program also requires 40 hours of experience in the field as an intern, employee, or volunteer at an approved institution. Students may receive transfer credit for similar coursework completed elsewhere. The total program cost is $5,925 plus the cost of textbooks or other class materials.
Animal Assisted Therapy Programs of Colorado offers a certificate in animal assisted psychotherapy (CAAP). The program is designed for mental health professionals and students with an interest in animal assisted interventions. The certificate program includes six online courses, which can be completed at the student's own pace. The program also offers a virtual classroom allowing students to network. The course is eligible for continuing education credit hours. Applicants must be students or have earned an advanced degree in the mental health field. The total program cost is $2,100.
Oakland University (in Michigan) offers a distance learning animal assisted therapy program. The program is conducted online and involves five modules each with five consecutive weeks of study. Students are required to write a full animal therapy business plan at the conclusion of the course. The program includes five courses and costs $2,495.
Harcum College (in Pennsylvania) offers a distance learning certificate course in animal assisted therapy. The 10-week program is completed at the student’s own pace and includes reading assignments, discussions, essays, and two site visits to organizations in their community that utilize animal assisted therapy. The course may provide continuing education credits or help a candidate expand their work in psychology, healthcare, or rehabilitation. Participants are not required to have a specific degree or prior training. Total program cost is $1,065.
For Pet Owners/Volunteers
There are also several groups that register teams of volunteers and their pets to visit nursing homes, schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and other community centers. These groups do not require the extensive coursework that must be completed for the certification programs but instead focus on community service type activities that can be completed with a volunteer’s personal pet.
Pet Partners, formerly known as the Delta Society, registers teams of handlers and animals. To become registered, an individual and their pet must complete a handler course in person (eight hours) or online, pass a screening by a veterinarian, pass an evaluation, and pay the two-year membership fee (which includes liability insurance). Many types of animals have been certified through the Pet Partners program including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, miniature pigs, equines, llamas, rats, and alpacas.
Therapy Dogs International registers therapy dogs that can pass a two-phase, 13-exercise testing process. Animals will be exposed to a variety of test situations including children playing, adults using walkers, and several people approaching the dog simultaneously. The dogs must also meet all health requirements, including an annual vet visit and up-to-date vaccinations. There is a $10 testing fee per dog.
Therapy Dogs Inc. registers therapy dogs that are well behaved and able to pass evaluations by a veterinarian and a tester/observer. The handler must also pass inspection by the TDI tester/observer. There is a one-time new member fee for $10, and dues are $30 per year for a handler/dog team which includes liability insurance.