What is AAA?

by Marie Adams. I have never been what I would consider to be a “dog person”—I like dogs well enough but I’ve always had a “take it or leave it” kind of attitude about interacting with animals. However, after a few weeks of participating in this summer research institute and studying the physiological and psychological effects a dog can have on a person, I must admit I am starting to sing a different tune. I never would have thought that interacting with a dog could produce such noticeable changes. Let me tell you what I mean.

The focus of our group’s research this summer is on Animal Assisted Activities (AAA for short). While AAA is not specifically goal oriented, it is unique in that it can be incorporated into the framework of other structured therapeutic interventions, whether those are in hospitals, clinics, or schools. AAA consists of a handler/owner and dog team who have passed a number of behavioral and health tests. They are then granted membership to a therapy dog organization and are free to do visits at various facilities that use therapy dogs. While visits are not goal-oriented, the visits can provide motivational and recreational opportunities for the patients, or just relieve some stress through petting and interacting with the dog.

Therapy Dogs can have an immediate and positive impact on people.

In our field trips to Genesis West and Trinity West, we have seen how AAA is utilized and how it could help ease patient reported stress or pain in a variety of clinical settings. At Trinity West we were privileged enough to watch a therapy dog interact with patients on a rehabilitation floor. The difference that the presence of the dog made was remarkable. Before the dog entered the patients seemed distant from one another and did not exhibit much enthusiasm towards the upcoming group physical or occupational therapy sessions. However, the whole scene changed in a matter of minutes after the therapy dog entered; not only did they smile and pet the dog, but the games they played with the dog helped to work on their own issues of balance, coordination, arm or leg strength, as well as to increase their interaction with each other, all of which will help them recover faster.

Although we do not have access to hospital patients for our group’s study, we have noticed certain trends in our pilot study with college students, trends that hopefully prove to be statistically significant. We’ll have to wait and see on that, as we are just starting to analysis our data. But the meantime, if you were to ask me if I thought AAA was worthwhile, I would respond with a resounding yes.

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