The field of animal-assisted interventions (AAI) has often been characterized by confusion surrounding terminology. Over the years, numerous terms have been proposed, leading to a lack of clarity and consistency in communication. Recognizing this issue, AAAIP champions clear and standardized terminology as established by leaders and practitioners in the field. 

Through collaborative efforts and stakeholder feedback, AAAIP identified the most commonly suggested terminology and incorporated it into the development of professional competencies for the field. By drawing on the insights of those actively involved in animal-assisted activities and interventions, AAAIP aims to promote greater clarity and understanding within the profession, facilitating more effective communication and practice.  


Type of Animal: 


Therapy Animal 

Pets that have been evaluated on their ability to safely interact with a wide range of populations to provide physical, psychological, and emotional benefits to those they interact with. Therapy animal handlers may volunteer their time to visit with their animals in the community, or they may be practitioners who utilize the power of the human-animal bond in professional settings. 

Facility Animal 

A type of therapy animal that is regularly present in a residential, clinical, or educational setting. Depending on the species, the animal might live with a handler who is an employee of the facility and come to work each day, or they might live at the facility full-time under the care of a dedicated staff person. Facility animals should be specifically trained for extended interactions while also having the ability to rest and take breaks as needed. 

Assistance Animal (also referred to as service animal)  

Dogs and in some cases miniature horses that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. 

These are the only working animals with special rights of access to public locations.  

Emotional Support Animal  

A pet that provides support to a person with a mental health diagnosis. To be designated as an emotional support animal, the pet must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional for a person with a mental illness. 



Want to learn more about the differences between these kinds of animals? View or download our comparison chart 



Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) 

This is the umbrella term to describe all interventions involving therapy and facility animals.  These are interventions that intentionally incorporate animals in health, education, and human service for the purpose of therapeutic gains and improved health and wellness. 

Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) 

Goal-oriented, planned, structured, and documented therapeutic intervention directed by health and human service providers as part of their profession. A wide variety of disciplines may incorporate AAT. Possible practitioners could include physicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, certified therapeutic recreation specialists, nurses, social workers, speech therapists, or mental health professionals. 

Animal-Assisted Education (AAE) 

Goal-oriented, planned, and structured intervention directed by a general education or special education professional. The focus of the activities is on academic goals, prosocial skills, and cognitive functioning with student progress being both measured and documented. 

Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA) 

Interventions that provide motivational, educational, and/or recreational benefits to enhance quality of life. While more informal in nature, these activities are delivered by a specially trained professional, paraprofessional, and/or volunteer, in partnership with an animal that meets specific criteria for suitability. 

Animal-Related Engagement (ARE) 

Any opportunity that allows participants the benefits of the human-animal bond by encouraging the remembrance of feelings that are commonly associated with interaction with an animal. 


Regarding Suggestions to Change Terminology 

We at Pet Partners and the Association of Animal-Assisted Intervention Professionals appreciate the ongoing dialogue around terminology in the animal-assisted intervention (AAI) field. While we respect the perspectives recently brought forth, we do not agree with the suggested alternative language, nor have any plans to consider adopting it. The terminology that has already been established in the field is rooted in practical considerations, has widespread familiarity and acceptance, and is deeply ingrained in textbooks, policy documents, and public understanding. Altering it now would only serve to amplify confusion and conflation and harm the industry’s progress towards our collective goal—fostering safe, ethical, and effective AAI and positive human-animal interactions. We will continue to evaluate new research and viewpoints as the field evolves as we embrace best practices and the latest well-supported evidence on human-animal interactions and AAI modalities.