Selecting and screening therapy animals to minimize risks to patients and pets - 2003

Presented in Opelika, AL, on September 25, 2003


Caroline B. Schaffer, DVM
College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health
Tuskegee University
Presentation Overview: To complement the Alabama State Nurses Association's annual conference, Caroline B. Schaffer, DVM will help participants who are considering incorporating the therapeutic value of human-companion animal relationships into their treatment plans. To get maximum benefits and to minimize risks, Dr. Schaffer will teach nurses to listen to what dogs have to say about participating in animal-assisted activities/therapy/education (AAA/T/E) programs.
The ability to read canine body language enables evaluators to screen out the fearful, aggressive, and overly playful dogs who may be a danger to patients. Regardless of what behavior test is used to screen animals for AAA/T/E , the principles learned in this lecture can and should be applied. Then evaluators won't simply pass or fail prospective therapy dogs based on gut feelings, but rather on a written profile of their attentiveness, playfulness, submission, aggression, and fearfulness of simulations of the sights, sounds, odors, and activities that they might encounter at an institution.
Dr. Schaffer will use videotaped segments of dogs interacting with people and other dogs to show how animals can express their desire to work in hospitals and other institutions. No ESP will be taught--just lessons in reading and classifying canine body language. Conference participants will learn to objectively evaluate key components of canine postures including eye and ear position, lip retraction, tail carriage, and body stance. Dr. Schaffer will use The Tuskegee PUPS Test for Selecting Therapy Dogs to show how dogs use postures to communicate.
She will use the Tuskegee Test as a model because (1) it encourages evaluators to avoid using subjective terms such as excited, shy, and mean that are likely to be challenged by dog owners, (2) it helps handlers see why their animals--although great at home--may be unduly stressed or fearful at a particular institution, and (3) it provides objective, non-prejudicial documentation leading to peace-of-mind for administrators who must show why each individual dog is allowed to interact with their hospital's patients and staff.