The program begins with an experiential laboratory one weekend in Denver. The focus of this laboratory is to begin or refine observation skills with canines and humans. Learners’ preferences and biases (both positive and negative) about canines are challenged and explored for their application to client/student work. This laboratory provides supervised hands-on skill-building and immediate supportive and instructive feedback.
Three courses are delivered through Canvas, an award-winning learning platform supported by extensive tech support. Coursework includes readings, watching lecture presentations, taking quizzes, participating in on-line discussions, and documenting fieldwork with multiple canines. Learners finalize their endorsement online by presenting their final three-part project to the cohort. The group provides peer review of each project.
Learners are required to have an official arrangement with a local shelter organization or canine club allowing them to work weekly with multiple canines. Fieldwork provides learners with practical and realistic live work with canines of varying ages, types, and abilities. To satisfy experiential requirements and demonstrate competencies, learners work with multiple dogs for several months. Fieldwork includes observation, training, interviews, taking video of oneself working with dogs, and written documentation of work.
The CAIS endorsement emphasizes practitioner competence and reflects the American Counseling Association’s “Animal-Assisted Therapy in Counseling Competencies.” CAIS organizes competence into three areas: ethics, knowledge, and skill.
Ethical practice of animal-assisted interventions requires consideration of the implications of the choices made moment-by-moment in animal-assisted interventions. CAIS focuses on choices related to canine welfare, sources of canines, duration of canine work, training methods, retirement, advocacy for canines, and more.
Adequate knowledge to provide animal-assisted interventions includes knowledge of and on-going education about canines in addition to knowledge about human clients. AAI practitioners have already received training about their human clients through their degree(s) and/or certificate(s). CAIS emphasizes knowledge areas related to canines, including the theoretical foundation of canine learning, meanings of canine behavior, understanding various training methods, training plan development, canine health and wellness needs, and more.
Delivering animal-assisted interventions in an ethical and sustainable way requires skill with canines in addition to skill with human clients or students. CAIS focuses on skills with canines, including training plan implementation, ability to match training methods with canines, demonstration of two of the four quadrants of training in practice, accurate interpretation of canine behavior, and more.
CAIS Program Director and Instructor
Ann R. Howie, CCFT, LICSW, ACSW, designed and teaches the Canine-Assisted Intervention Specialist (CAIS) certificate program.
Ann has specialized in animal-assisted mental health since 1987. She has a unique combination of personal experience and professional training in both the human and animal fields. She has enjoyed and learned from animals all her life (she was up on horseback before she was walking). As an adult, Ann began integrating animals into her counseling practice in 1986, and has both state and national credentials as a clinical social worker. Ann has incorporated animals into her work in private practice, in-patient psychiatry; acute-care hospital pediatrics, medical-surgical, intensive care, and medical rehabilitation units; home health; hospice; and skilled nursing facilities.
As a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer, Ann helps dogs unleash the potential of their body and mind and handlers deepen their relationship with their dog. In addition, she provides therapy dog training and consultation for animal-assisted programming internationally. She was part of the initial task force that identified standards for the emerging field of animal-assisted therapy. She helped develop the Pet Partners Program, and her influence convinced Pet Partners to evaluate handlers as well as animals. Her latest book, Teaming With Your Therapy Dog, is a text for many animal-assisted programs.