Notes on Animal Assisted Play Therapy® activities

We went to an amazing workshop on Animal Assisted Play Therapy® and have been studying up on it for over a year. While we have done animal-assisted therapy before, it hasn't included this wonderful fun sense of fun that comes with play. Boy, it can help the child who is usually hard to motivate! When a dog is in the room, the encounter seems much less tense to the child (and much more enjoyable).

The child can:

  • Set up an obstacle/agility course for the dog. It can be helpful to use equipment from the dog sport of agility, such as tunnels, weave-poles, hoops, and hurdles. 
  • Set up a treat-toy for the dog (helps with frustration)
  • Practice heeling (with treats) to get the child away from an obsession with their iPad
  • Play tug (teaches how to manage arousal)
  • Play stop-and-go games like "Red Light, Green Light" (teaches how to manage arousal)
  • Teach the dog to make better eye contact (using click/treat) and thus practices themselves making eye contact
  • "Give advice" to the dog, perhaps about stealing, sharing, or dealing with anger (can be especially good for a child who has experienced trauma)
  • Read to the dog
  • Hide a toy and ask the dog to find it using their nose (helpful for attachment problems)
  • Teach the dog a trick like spinning in a circle, closing a door (using click/treat) to teach patience and tolerance
  • Pet or brush the dog (learning to stay calm)
  • Dramatic play involving child dress-up (not the dog)
  • Draw what the time with the dog means to them
  • Teach the dog to turn on a light button (if they are afraid of the dark)
  • Teach the dog to unroll a rug by putting treats in it. A less complicated game can be putting treats in a snuffle mat

Other activities:

  • The dog can pick up emoji-balls or feels-balls and then the child acts out a one-minute skit about that emotion
  • Or the child can pick up those, toss them into baskets labeled sometimes, often, rarely (and then tell the dog about it)
  • If you write out single-word topics on paper, the child can choose one and then talk to the dog about it
  • Tell the child that the dog is having a problem (one the child has) and the child can give the dog advice
  • Write down a challenge for the child (one they might like to work on) onto a Post-It note, put the Post-It in a toilet paper tube, and then the child can help the dog find it among a bunch of other toilet paper tubes. The child can then work on that challenge during the week and later on, tell the dog how it went.