Canine Communication in Animal Assisted Play Therapy®, 2nd edition



Despite sharing our lives with dogs for years, it is often the case that we are unaware of the many ways that they are constantly communicating. They use virtually every part of their body to communicate, and the study of canine body language provides us with a deeper understanding of our dogs. This course is designed to help you become more aware of the ways that dogs communicate and why it is so important for you to become adept at observing and understanding what they are saying at all times, including during therapy or educational sessions in which they participate. Mental health, allied health, and education professionals must be able to communicate effectively with each other to provide quality, coordinated services. Similarly, the human-canine therapy team must communicate well to ensure that sessions go smoothly. The well-being of clients as well as the dogs depends on it! Recognition and accurate interpretation of canine communication is probably the most important skill a therapist can develop to ensure safety for all involved, to make effective decisions during therapy sessions, and to maximize therapeutic gain. Furthermore, it is valuable to help clients learn to understand some of the communication signals of animals, as they can provide a basis for strengthening empathy.

This course covers many details about dogs’ body language and offers some practice opportunities to build awareness and skill in this vital area. The observation skills and the approach to interpretation covered in this course can readily be applied to other species as well, although the specific body signals can be quite different and should be mastered for each species with which one works. Successful completion of this course is a prerequisite for the live 4-day Animal Assisted Play Therapy® Level 1 workshop offered regularly in the US, UK, and other countries. The contents of this course are relevant for those engaging in many forms of therapy dog work, as well as for others interested in understanding their dogs better. This course can be taken as a stand-alone program. Registration fee includes all course materials except the textbook and CD.

CE Credits Available: 10

Required Text and CD (sold separately):

Pelar, C. (2009). Kids and Dogs: A Professional’s Guide to Helping Families. Woodbridge, VA: C&R Publishing.

Byrnes, C. (2008). What Is My Dog Saying? Communication 101 (CD), Spokane, WA: Diamonds in the Ruff.

Instructor: Risë VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC, Licensed Psychologist (PA)

Learning Objectives: Participants in this course will be able to…

  1. Describe at least 2 reasons it is important to learn to read canine body language when involving dogs in the responsible, ethical practice of child/family/play therapy, other mental health therapies, allied health interventions, and educational programs.
  2. Identify at least 10 different canine stress or calming signals therapists might see in Animal Assisted Play Therapy® or AAT and what they might mean.
  3. Explain the importance of context in interpreting canine body language.
  4. Observe and respond to stress signals in order to ensure the safety of clients in AAPT.
  5. Intervene appropriately when dogs show significant levels of stress during sessions.
  6. Explain the connection between canine body language and the development of empathy in children within AAPT sessions.
  7. Explain the difference between “tolerance” and “enjoyment” in dogs’ interactions with people, how to tell the difference, and the implications of that for AAPT and AAT.

You will automatically receive access to the course materials upon completion of payment. Please make sure that you add to your address book or email whitelist. 

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