Animal Assisted Therapy

Concordia University Wisconsin offers the state's first AAT Certificate program for those seeking to use dogs—or other animals—as part of their professional practice.

When you think about it, dogs are truly amazing creatures—genuine gifts from God. They do so many things to serve mankind, from looking after livestock, to protecting people and property, to simply being loyal friends when we need them.

In recent years, their potential to serve as therapy dogs and comfort dogs has also been explored more fully. That’s what makes Concordia University Wisconsin’s Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) Certificate program—the first of its kind in the state—such an exciting development.

“We now have a much-improved understanding of the strength of the human-animal bond, and how the incorporation of animals into therapeutic or educational plans can help individuals achieve their therapy or educational goals,” said Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Lois Harrison, PT, DPT, MS, C-HAIS. “At the same time, emerging industry standards encourage those carrying out animal assisted therapy to become appropriately trained in order to maximize safe, effective, and ethical practice.”

Therapy and More

The program was created to give therapists and other professionals already in practice the opportunity to offer another level of care, incorporating animals to help clients achieve their therapy goals, or for students to meet their educational goals. AAT is applicable to a wide variety of disciplines, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, therapeutic recreation specialists, nurses, social workers, behavioral health professionals, and educators.

RELATED: 5 unique ways Concordia is supporting students’ emotional wellbeing

“While the focus of the certificate is on canines, the concepts can be applied when other animals might be incorporated into therapy,” Harrison added.

Designed to be completed in just one year, the program consists of four courses: three online and one on-campus weekend course. The on-campus course includes experiential learning opportunities, where students will partner with experienced therapy dog teams to implement AAT interventions.

The curriculum includes a capstone project designed to creatively apply the knowledge gained to the participant’s specific practice situation before the certificate is awarded.

“There are very few Animal Assisted Therapy certificates available for people who are interested, so we are excited to offer one here at Concordia,” Harrison said. “With an AAT Certificate in hand, therapists will have the specialized skills and knowledge they need to provide evidence-based animal-assisted therapy while conforming to best practice standards.”

To learn more about earning an Animal Assisted Therapy Certificate at Concordia University Wisconsin, visit or contact Dr. Lois Harrison at

— This story is written by Mike Zimmerman, corporate communications manager for Concordia University Wisconsin. He may be reached at or 262-243-4380.

If this story has inspired you, why not explore how you can help further Concordia's mission through giving.