Online Courses

Related to AAPT

Online Course Catalog

Please find course descriptions and registration information below for all the Animal Assisted Play Therapy® (AAPT) and animal-related online courses we currently have available. Some of the courses have textbooks, which need to be purchased separately. Many people already have them. At the end of each description is a link to register for the course, as well as a link to enter the course if you have already registered and received the current password.

Courses listed are as follows:

  • Therapeutic Writing by Animals
  • Proceedings of the AAPT Online Conference
  • Human-Animal Relationships in AAPT: Special Topics
  • Selection of Dogs for Family Life & Therapy Work with special attention to AAPT
  • Introduction to AAPT
  • Canine Communication in AAPT: Recognizing, Understanding, & Responding to Body Language in Our Canine Cotherapists
  • Essentials of Canine Behavior & Training for AAPT: Building the Therapeutic Partnership
  • Animal Assisted Play Therapy® Ethics & Animal Welfare
  • Feline Communication in AAPT

Therapeutic Writing by Animals

A 2-session webinar featuring Kirrie, therapeutic writing author
with her typist, Risë VanFleet, PhD, 

20 May 2021 (Thursday) – 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
25 May 2021 (Tuesday) – 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

My name is Kirrie. I have written dozens of therapeutic letters and quite a few booklets during my career in Animal Assisted Play Therapy®. It appears they have been quite helpful! There are times when animals cannot be directly involved in your therapeutic work or other times when clients need a little extra assistance in coping with the challenges they face. This is where therapeutic writing from the point of view of us animals can be very helpful. Read on to learn more about my upcoming webinar to teach you (and your animals) how to do this type of intervention!

Many people, and children and young people in particular, are drawn to animals. Sometimes they can relate to animals more readily than they can to adults, parents, teachers, or therapists/counselors. Often, animals’ lives bear similarities to human lives, such as life within families, surviving trauma, living in foster homes and being adopted, living with illness or infirmity, adapting to new circumstances, learning new skills, and growing old. Bibliotherapy, in which therapists or educators use books written for a specific audience on a relevant topic to augment the therapeutic or educational process, can be very useful. There are many books on a wide range of topics written for all ages. Even so, sometimes the need for age-appropriate materials arises quickly, or there simply is nothing written on a particular topic, or a more personal touch is needed. In those cases, therapeutic writing can fill an important role.

Therapeutic writing takes many forms. It can be a letter “written” by a known therapy animal, a story or booklet “authored” by a client’s animal, or a blog created by an unknown animal living in a similar situation as the client. Therapeutic letters can help students get past a roadblock or encourage mental health clients to cope with a trauma or loss. The options are limitless.

This webinar will be conducted in a workshop-style manner and is designed to give psychotherapists, play and expressive therapists, counselors, psychologists, and teachers the guidelines and skills for writing therapeutic materials to help their students and clients meet their goals or overcome challenges. A variety of methods will be covered including storytelling skills, shared storytelling, tailor-made booklets, encouraging messages, educational tools, support through tough situations, and more. Skills include the use of humor and playfulness, writing from the point of view of the animals, bringing the writing to life, simple illustration options, finding inspiration, writing at different developmental levels, and ways of involving clients more actively in the process.

The webinar is divided into two meetings. The first day takes 3 hours during which these many topics are covered. An hour-long assignment given at the end of the first day is completed by participants on their own. The second meeting lasts for 2 hours during which participants will share their assignments, receive feedback, and final information and tips are provided.

SELECTION OF DOGS FOR FAMILY LIFE & THERAPY WORK with special attention to Animal Assisted Play Therapy (OC-SD)

This is a non-CE course, but it is very useful, nevertheless, in helping therapists find, socialize, and train dogs with whom they can work as partners in therapy.

Selecting a dog as a family companion as well as for therapy work is a complex process, and perhaps more complicated than many realize. Your decision will affect your family for years. If there are plans for the dog to be involved in therapy work, and especially psychotherapy or play therapy, then it is important that the dog is suitable for those purposes as well. Not all dogs are appropriate for all families or all types of work. Most people want a friendly, calm, stable dog who will fit in well with their lifestyle. Therapists need dogs who will be able to perform and enjoy the work that is asked of them.

This self-paced online course has been developed to provide practical and up-to-date information that will help you acquire a dog who is more likely to fit well with your family and work, helping you make a more informed choice. It is designed to help you determine the attributes that you want or need in the dog, and to help you look more fully for those characteristics in the puppies or dogs being considered. Information is provided about acquiring puppies from responsible breeders as well as how to adopt dogs from rescues or shelters.  The following sections are included:

  • Introduction
  • Lifestyle Considerations
  • Dog Breeds
  • Puppy Mills, Backyard Breeders, & Reputable Breeders
  • Rescue Dogs
  • When Should I Acquire a Dog?
  • Individual Characteristics of Dogs
  • Observations & “Tests” – How to Evaluate the Dog
  • Observations
  • Available Assessment Tools
  • Creating Your Own “Tests”
  • Selection for Animal Assisted Play Therapy & Other Therapy Work
  • Selection Help from Canine Professionals
  • Socialization & Training Considerations
  • Keeping in Touch: Well-being & Changes
  • Other Resources

This course consists of a PowerPoint presentation in PDF format. It has detailed information, photographs to illustrate, and links to articles, videos, and other resources that might be useful in selecting a new puppy or dog. This course is not designed as a continuing education offering, but the other courses in this catalog do offer continuing education for mental health and some for canine professionals.

This online course is offered as a stand-alone program. Registration fee includes all course materials.

Instructor: Risë VanFleet, PhD, RPT-S, CDBC
(Licensed Psychologist, Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor, Certified Dog
Behavior Consultant)

CANINE COMMUNICATION IN ANIMAL ASSISTED PLAY THERAPY®: Recognizing, Understanding, & Responding to Body Language in Our Canine Co-therapists (OC-CC)

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.

Human-Animal Relationships in AAPT: Special Topics

This 4-part series, recorded from live webinars offered in 2020, focuses on special topics designed to enhance participants’ understanding of the human-animal relationship in Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) and Animal Assisted Play Therapy® (AAPT). The co-creators of AAPT, Risë VanFleet and Tracie Faa-Thompson, focus on multiple species in their sessions, with an emphasis on dogs and horses. The other presenters, Val Miraglia and Jodi Smith, focus primarily on dogs, although the general principles will apply to all species involved in this work. The four sessions of this course are below with their respective presenters:

  • Enhancing Our Human-Animal Skills ~ Risë VanFleet
  • Resilience 2.0: The Rest of the Story ~ Val Miraglia
  • What Does “Choice” Really Mean? ~ Tracie Faa-Thompson
  • Socialization: Preparing Dogs & Beyond ~ Jodi Smith

Proceedings of the AAPT Online Conferences

Proceedings from 2021, 2022 and 2023 conferences now available as an online course!

On March 9-11, 2021 (Tuesday through Thursday), we held our first Animal Assisted Play Therapy® conference! It featured 12 presentations which are now available, collectively, as a self-paced online course. Continuing education credits are available. The full schedule and many more details are in this flyer.

On March 2-3, 2022, we held our second annual online Animal Assisted Play Therapy® Conference. It featured 12 presentations which are now available, collectively, as a self-paced online course. Continuing education credits are available. The topics follow below. The full schedule and many more details are in this flyer.


This course provides an overview of Animal Assisted Play Therapy® (AAPT), a therapeutic approach that fully integrates play therapy and Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), with significant contributions from several other fields. It is most often used to treat a wide range of child, adolescent, and family psychosocial problems, and it is also appropriate for groups and adults of all ages. The course provides the definition of AAPT, guiding principles and values, goal areas, required therapist competencies, animal selection and preparation, descriptions of the type of relationship between therapist and animal and how to achieve that, the types of settings used, the wide range of methods and interventions available, the welfare of animals, an overview of applications and ethics, and numerous case examples of this promising approach in action. The focus is on dogs and horses, but the principles and methods can be used with other species as well. The approach has been used by mental health, allied health, and education professionals.

This course is intended as a thorough introduction, but not as an in-depth training program. People completing the course will have a solid understanding of the possibilities and procedures for AAPT, but should not begin the practice of AAPT based upon this single course.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course. This course does serve as one of the prerequisites for the 4-day live skills-building course, Animal Assisted Play Therapy®, Level 1.

CE Credits Available: 14

Required Text (sold separately): VanFleet, R., & Faa-Thompson, T. (2017). Animal Assisted Play Therapy. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.

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

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

  1. define Animal Assisted Play Therapy and describe how it differs from other Animal Assisted Therapy modalities.
  2. define play therapy and how it differs from other child or family therapy interventions.
  3. describe what is meant by each of the Guiding Principles of AAPT and why each one is important.
  4. explain why the animal’s welfare is equally important to that of the client.
  5. identify five primary goal areas for AAPT work.
  6. list the competencies needed by therapists to do this work competently and ethically.
  7. describe the key components for preparing a dog to be involved in play therapy work.
  8. describe the major forms of play therapy within which AAPT can be applied.
  9. explain at least 5 different AAPT interventions.
  10. explain the importance of working with horses in familiar, natural environments.
  11. describe the 3 criteria that must be met for dressing up an animal in an ethical and humane manner.
  12. list the sequence with which one debriefs a group after an AAPT activity.
  13. list the qualities that go into a healthy therapist-animal relationship
  14. describe what the 3-second rule is and how to conduct it.
  15. describe why perfect behavior is not a requirement of AAPT therapy animals.
  16. describe at least 2 ways in which playfulness or lightness can be incorporated into the AAPT process.


This self-paced course has been created to provide the practitioner of Animal Assisted Play Therapy® or other Animal Assisted Interventions with a solid background in canine behavior and training. It is likely to be useful to others who wish to learn more about canine socialization, behavior, and training, and how these relate to our relationships with dogs as well as to the work we ask them to do.

Included lessons are as follows: (1) the therapeutic partnership; (2) the nature of dogs; debunking the myths; (3) socialization; (4) overview of dog training; (5) learning principles (theory); (6) positive training concepts; (7) dog training applications; (8) more training applications and resources; (9) the dog’s welfare. The course consists of a PowerPoint presentation, links to supporting documents, video presentations and examples, and detailed examples of how to train a number of key behaviors. Successful completion of this course is a prerequisite for the live 4-day Animal Assisted Play Therapy® Level 2 workshop offered regularly in the US, UK, and elsewhere.

CE Credits Available: 10

Required Text (sold separately): Dennison, P. (2015). You CAN Train Your Dog: Mastering the Art & Science of Modern Dog Training. Blairstown, NJ: Shadow Publishing.

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

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

  1. Explain why the therapist-canine relationship is so important to Animal Assisted Play Therapy®.
  2. Identify key features of a therapy partnership with a dog.
  3. Define the basic principles of classical conditioning.
  4. Explain the four quadrants of operant conditioning.
  5. Describe what is meant by socialization and why it is so important for play therapy dogs.
  6. Define the following terms: luring, free shaping, capturing, marker training, play training, DRI.
  7. Give at least 3 reasons why it is critical to use nonaversive methods in training dogs for therapy work.
  8. Distinguish collars and harnesses that are appropriate and inappropriate for managing dogs’ behavior.
  9. Apply training principles and ideas to teach their dogs at least 3 useful behaviors for AAPT work.
  10. Monitor their dogs for stress during therapy sessions and respond appropriately when they see it.

Animal Assisted Play Therapy® Ethics & Animal Welfare

Animal Assisted Play Therapy® is a complex form of therapeutic intervention that requires knowledge and skill competencies from several different fields. Whenever live animals are involved in therapy, there are a number of special ethical and welfare considerations that differ from those in other forms of therapy. It is not nearly enough for therapists to take their “nice animals” to work with them, nor is it sufficient to take one online course and begin practicing. There are scope of practice issues that are important for any therapist considering the involvement of an animal to consider. Nonhuman animals are sentient beings whose needs must be attended to carefully. The welfare of animals involved also relates directly to the quality of experience for clients, therapeutically as well as in terms of risk management.

This online course highlights the key factors that one must learn and bear in mind when involving animals in their professional AAT and AAPT work. It includes sections on professional ethics, principles of practice, therapist competencies, boundaries of practice, relationships, natural environments, animal welfare (including discussion of the Five Freedoms, animal consent, equipment, and animal choices), therapist awareness, and risk management processes. The course offers a variety of exercises and tools for therapists to assess their own progress and areas for future development. It also pulls together elements of other courses within an ethics and welfare context.

CE Credits Available: 6

Prerequisites: This course will be more meaningful if you have already taken the Introduction to Animal Assisted Play Therapy® online course (and the text for this course is the same as for that one). Although the reading for this course uses only sections from the required text, it is advisable that you first read the entire book (which you do in the Intro to AAPT course). This course is required for those interested in becoming AAPT supervisors and instructors, as well as for certified therapists as a continuing professional development course.

Required Text (sold separately): VanFleet, R., & Faa-Thompson, T. (2017). Animal Assisted Play Therapy. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.

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 why scope of practice issues matter in AAT/AAPT.
  2. Identify and define the 8 key competencies therapists must develop.
  3. Describe at least 2 reasons why it is important that therapists develop fluency in reading the body language of each species with whom they work.
  4. Give 2 examples of how therapists can offer choice to their animal partners.
  5. Define what is meant by “goodness of fit” when applied to the practice of AAT/AAPT.
  6. Give an example of each of the “five freedoms” as applied to AAT/AAPT.
  7. Identify how you would handle it if a child client grabbed the tail of a dog, cat, or horse.
  8. Describe 2 factors that might cause an otherwise nice dog to snarl or bite.
  9. Identify how you would handle clients picking up cats and small dogs.
  10. Practice with lower risk and higher quality in the fields of AAT/AAPT.
  11. Understand the need to learn a great deal about animals.
  12. Describe at least 4 features of an excellent therapist-animal relationship.
  13. Describe what is meant by & why it is important to work within the animal’s natural environment.
  14. Describe the 3 criteria that should be applied to decisions about dressing up animals.