Beneficial for improving the ability to recognize emotions, but also for improving other behavioral characteristics.
Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) is not a singular therapy, it is a group of procedures based on the behavioral characteristics of an animal (the most common animals being the dogs), which, depending on needs, can be inserted into standard treatments, such as behavioral therapy, game therapy, and many others. In other countries, such as the United States of America, England, Austria, this field has tradition, and there is a lot of openness from education and medical systems towards it. AAT requires the existence of an intervention plan with clear objectives and variables that can be measured before and after the intervention.
Worldwide, the most common therapy animal is dogs, being easy to train and to evaluate at a behavioral level, given their behavioral characteristics that facilitate optimal communication with people, such as predisposition to play and the initiation of social interactions, and similarities of body postures related to certain emotions. Other animal species are also used depending on the beneficiary’s needs (the functional domain addressed: motor, cognitive, emotional, social) and the possibility of keeping animals: dolphins, cats, farm animals (small pigs, llamas) and horses.
The interest in animal therapy and assisted activities in Romania dates back to the early 2000, when various animal protection foundations and associations began to provide services for people (from children to the elderly) with physical and intellectual recovery needs. Regarding the scientific approach of the animal-assisted interactions in Romania, we can say that this started in 2006, when Babeş-Bolyai University (Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences) offered for the first time a postgraduate course of therapy and assisted animal activities, which after a two-year break (between 2010-2011) it was resumed in the variant addressed to people with special needs, being offered in cooperation with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (The University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Cluj-Napoca).
The specialty literature shows significant results of AAT for both the clinical population (people diagnosed with certain psychological and physical disorders: autism, depression, motor, sensory, intellectual disabilities) and non-clinical (non-clinical to improve certain values of variables – for example, self-esteem, emotional recognition etc. For each variable addressed within animal-assisted therapy sessions, standard tools in the field of psychology and special education are used, such as scales, tests and specific items. Also, if it is desired to measure physiological variables associated with the effects of human-animal interaction, instruments can be used to assess blood pressure, electrical conductance of the skin, and neurological areas involved in the response to the presence of a pet.