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Integrating games into animal therapy sessions

There are so many benefits to being a registered therapy team with Pet Partners ( One of the great offerings is a discount with the Kyjen ( company. Kyjen was founded by Kyle Hansen to create unique products that will keep dogs active and engaged. Their products last longer, challenge the dog's mind and stimulate their instincts. The Love Dog animal therapy team in Las Vegas( has been incorporating these unique games and toys into therapeutic settings with both children and adults and have seen tremendous rewards.

Boise with Jigsaw Puzzle
JUlian and Benny trying out a new game

Think about all the areas in which a game can be used to harness the power of the animal to accomplish a goal. Whether it is fine motor skills, eye/hand coordination, speech, giving verbal cues, even a smile you are going after, the game is a great way to engage the client and stave off frustration and boredom. Therapy can become very repetitive for clients and keeping the sessions fresh and exciting is often the greatest challenge. It is up to the animal handler to bring the supplies used with the animal thus finding these new and stimulating games is great for both the dog and client.

I know that Benny just loves learning new things and when a new toy arrives, he can't wait to figure it out. I first think of different applications for the game and then teach Benny the words for each action. We have found it best to use only a very tiny treat when a treat is required and prefer Cheerios or Goldfish as the clients often put the treat in their own mouth. This also limits the calories the dog gets in any one session as you can do so many repeats.

The time spent teaching the dog a new skill is time bonding with the handler and such fun. Benny is never happier than when showing off something new to Julian or our adult clients. Whether it is a child on the autism spectrum or living with physical challenges or an adult working through s stroke, the games can be integrated into the therapy sessions successfully to achieve the goal of the day.

The Love Dogs were honored to be part of a presentation recently by Occupational Therapists to their colleagues at a local university. The student giving the presentation had done her internship at the therapy center where we have several clients and wanted to share with her fellow students how a successful animal therapy program can be initiated and the unending creative ways you can bring the animals into the goal of the day.

Boise brought his favorite Kyjen toy and everyone was just amazed at how he can play the game and the many elements of a therapy session it could be used for. Boise is very adept at the Jigsaw Spinner and Benny's favorite game is the Tic-Tac-Twirl!

Staying fresh and creative is one of the greatest challenges when working with the same client time over time but also the greatest joy. The dogs love learning new things and we as the handlers love coming up with new therapies to showcase what our animals can do to accomplish a goal.

And sometimes having Benny show his best friend, Julian, that even if something is difficult to learn you can do it, is the greatest lesson of all.

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