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History of Animal Assisted Therapy

The earliest reported use of AAT for the mentally ill took place in the late 18th century at the York Retreat in England, led by William Tuke.(1)

In 1860, the Bethlem Hospital in England followed the same trend and added animals to the ward, greatly influencing the morale of the patients living there.(1)

However, in other pieces of literature it states that AAT was used as early as 1792 at the Quaker Society of Friends York Retreat in England.(2)

Velde, Cipriani & Fisher also state “Florence Nightingale appreciated the benefits of pets in the treatment of individuals with illness.”

The US military promoted the use of dogs as a therapeutic intervention with psychiatric patients in 1919 at St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC.

Sigmund Freud kept many dogs and often had his chow Jofi present during his pioneering sessions of psychoanalysis. He noticed that the presence of the dog was helpful because the patient would find that their speech would not shock or disturb the dog and this reassured them and so encouraged them to relax and confide. This was most effective when the patient was a child or adolescent.(3)

Increased recognition of the value of human–pet bonding was noted by Dr. Boris Levinson in 1961.

Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

Over the years, we have realized the importance of dogs and learned how their companionship can beat multiple mental and psychological disorders. Medical science has affirmed that dogs contribute to driving emotional wellbeing (4)

I believe that a  furry friend can offer peace and comfort to many people out there, Here are some examples of the benefits…

Physical effects of working with dogs:

  • encouraging motor skills, coordination
  • increase in sensorimotor perception
  • encouraging the touch sense
  • Relieving stress / produce hormones and neurotransmitters
  • Normalising blood pressure
  • Distracting from pain

Psychological effects of working with dogs:

  • giving sense of security
  • encouraging self-esteem
  • teaching empathy
  • giving acceptance and joy
  • encouraging responsibility
  • Improvement in depression or anxiety

Social benefits of working with dogs:

  • heightened problem-solving and communication skills by giving the dog commands
  • learning how to relate to others and hygiene
  • greater level of interest and focus
  • more positive attitude and motivation













 1.Serpell J (2000). “Animal Companions and Human Well-Being: An Historical Exploration of the Value of Human-Animal Relationships”. Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Theoretical Foundations and Guidelines for Practice: 3–17.

2. Velde BP, Cipriani J, Fisher G (2005). “Resident and therapist views of animal-assisted therapy: Implications for occupational therapy practice”. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal. 52 (1): 43–50. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1630.2004.00442.x.

3.Stanley Coren (2010), “Foreword”, Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy, Academic Press, ISBN 978-0-12-381453-1