Animal Assisted Therapy Certification

Elderly woman in wheelchair pets dog.
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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.

Certification Programs

The University of Denver (in Colorado) offers an Animal & 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 $3,000 (lodging and travel costs for the campus portion are not included).

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 health care workers. The program involves five courses that take 10 weeks each to complete.  Students may receive transfer credit for similar coursework completed elsewhere. The total program cost is $5,550 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. Students must attend a three-day intensive workshop (near Denver) and then complete the rest of the coursework online at their own pace.

The course is eligible for continuing education credit hours. Applicants must have an advanced degree in the mental health field, or be currently pursuing such a degree. The total program cost is $2,500.

Camden County College offers an animal assisted therapy program based out of its New Jersey campus.

The Survey Course in Animal Assisted Therapy & Animal Assisted Activities requires participation in 10 Saturday morning sessions that include field trips, demonstrations, lectures, and videos. Continuing education credits are available. The total program cost is $400.

Oakland University (in Michigan) offers a distance learning animal-assisted therapy program. The 2.5-semester program is conducted online and takes about a year to complete. Students are required to write a full animal therapy business plan at the conclusion of the course. The program costs $1,495.

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 $950.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro offers an animal assisted therapy certificate that requires one intensive training weekend followed by 15 credit hours of online coursework.

Applicants must have a completed undergraduate degree or seek special permission from the program director. This program is on Moratorium but may return.

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 focuses 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 (8 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, pot-bellied pigs, horses, donkeys, llamas, and exotic birds.

Therapy Dogs International registers therapy dogs that can pass a two-phase, thirteen 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.  Dues are $30 per year for a handler/dog team which includes liability insurance.