The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Careers with Canine Coworkers

By Roxanne Hawn

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Oh, sure, you’ve heard of K-9 police officers, military dogs, and working service dogs, but did you know that there are new degree programs for people wanting to use dogs in their day-to-day work? In some cases, professionals – such as those with social work degrees – can add a graduate-level animal-assisted certificate program to their credentials.

To find degree programs or certificate program options, search online for “animal-assisted therapy degree programs” or “animal-assisted therapy certificate programs.”

Trained and certified therapy and assistance dogs can provide comfort and encouragement to people who need it. They can even help at-risk populations of children and adults practice important social skills.

In Education

Teachers, especially those who focus on reading and communication, as well as those working in special education settings, sometimes use dogs in their work. Examples might include having students read aloud to the dog, if they are nervous about reading aloud in front of people.

In Healthcare Settings

Occupational therapists and physical therapists, who help people regain essential life skills and abilities, sometimes use dogs to encourage patients to keep working or even as therapy props. For example, if someone has had a stroke, she might practice movement on her affected side by petting or brushing the dog.

In Mental Health Settings

Counselors, social workers, and mental health therapists can include dogs in their individual and group sessions to help people remain calm or to provide comfort as they discuss difficult and upsetting topics.

In Eldercare Settings

Many assisted living and long-term care facilities keep “house dogs” on staff to visit with residents, take part in group activities, and provide a more home-like atmosphere for elderly residents.

Having a dog onsite was one of the criteria when we selected a facility for my mom in her final years. Shawnie, the original house dog we knew, died of cancer earlier this year, but the activities director was already training a new puppy, Meadow, in May 2013. I lost my mom, after a lengthy illness, exactly a month after taking the photo of Meadow above, checking out my purse.

Contract vs Staff Work

In some cases, the animal-assisted therapy professional is self-employed and hired on a contract basis to bring their canine coworker into certain settings. In other cases, the professional is on staff, lives with the dog at home, and works with her during the day. 


“Careers in Animal Assisted Therapy, Education, and Activities,” Animal Behavior Institute 

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