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Division of Continuing Education

Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Certificate Program

Welcome to the University of North Florida’s online Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Certificate! This program is available to individuals wanting to learn the knowledge, skills, and values in animal-assisted activities, animal-assisted therapy, animal-assisted education, and entry-level animal communication and behavior. This certificate program has been offered since 2007 with more than 250 students worldwide. This provides a strong network of AAI professionals who will share your Certificate as a Human Animal Intervention Specialist credential.

This program is for anyone who is interested in partnering with animals in a professional or volunteer capacity. This program aims to teach individuals how to navigate the AAI literature, identify and access best practices, and gain practical skills for individuals or organizations to propose, evaluate and develop an AAI program in the student’s choice of environments. Additionally, this program seeks to support and contribute to implementing and advancing several professional issues required for animal-assisted activities, therapy, and education. The vision of the program creators is to promote the thoughtful and ethical practice of animal-assisted interventions by focusing on practitioner competency, quality client care, and optimal animal welfare and well-being.

Upon successful completion of UNF’s Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Certificate, participants may use the credentials C-HAIS (Certificate as a Human Animal Interaction Specialist) to demonstrate that they have received education specific to AAIs.

Course Schedule

The program includes five consecutive 6-week courses in the following areas and is co-taught by Melissa Winkle, Amy (Johnson) Binder, and well-respected guest lecturers. Each course must be completed in sequential order.

2023–2024 Schedule

course schedule
Courses Dates
Introduction to Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions October 2, 2023–November 10, 2023
Animal Care Plans in Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions November 13, 2023–December 22, 2023
Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Session Planning for Special Populations January 8, 2024–February 16, 2024
Administrative Policies in Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions February 19, 2024–March 29, 2024
Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Capstone Project April 1, 2024–May 10, 2024

Course Delivery

Each live course is presented with real-time interactions with faculty and students. Class attendance is required, but live sessions are recorded to play back later if you cannot attend or reside in a different time zone. Course assignments are curated based on your attendance at the live sessions.

Competencies in AAI

The lack of a global or national overarching governing body for certification or accreditation of any AAIs has led to confusion, misinterpretation, and poor practices that involve AAIs. This program will guide students in the exploration of terminology, standards, ethics, competencies, organization-specific accreditations/certifications, best practices, program proposals, evaluations, and development. Students will learn to find and evaluate literature that impacts evidence-based practice. This program will guide students through skills, knowledge, and values. To add a specialty to practice without having the knowledge, skills, and values associated with that specialty can mean that the provider is operating outside their scope of practice. To ensure that providers of AAI remain within their boundaries of competence, this certificate program aligns with the competencies for Animal Assisted Interventions (AAIs) that were published and endorsed by the American Counseling Association in 2016 and subsequently by Pet Partners and Animal Assisted Interventions International. These competencies were founded on a Grounded Theory study designed to promote the three domains of competencies (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) and identified nine competency areas (Stewart, L.A., Chang, C. Y., Parker, L. K., & Grubbs, N., 2016).

These areas include:

  1. Formal Animal Assisted Intervention (AAA, AAT, and AAE) Training
  2. In-depth animal knowledge
  3. Knowledge of existing ethics
  4. Mastery of professional discipline-specific skills as a foundation prior to adding AAIs
  5. Intentionality
  6. Specialized skill set
  7. Animal advocacy
  8. Professional development
  9. Professional values

While no one program or course can offer everything, this workshop seeks to satisfy the need for education in this area that aligns with the competencies.

Learning Outcomes and Practicum

This program will offer entry to intermediate-level foundational knowledge via live and recorded lectures from instructors and guest lecturers, reading, reflections, group discussions, and evaluation of the literature. Students will demonstrate competency with the completion of assignments, quizzes, interviews of professionals in the field, video evaluation of animal communication and behavior, and a capstone project specific to students' areas of interest, population, environment, and species.

In-person practicum will be offered as an additional certificate up to twice a year, in the Northeast and Southwest regions of the United States.

Ongoing Continuing Education:
As this certificate program proceeds, we will offer additional continuing education courses in several content areas, which will be open to certificants and the public.

Who Should Attend

  • Healthcare, human service, educational professionals, and volunteers who wish to include animals in their work for goal-driven or recreational work
  • Nurses, counselors, criminal justice professionals, teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, and others that would like to work with animals in their practices with vulnerable populations
  • Dog trainers who help prepare humans and their animals for animal-assisted interventions
  • Anyone interested in advanced study in animal-assisted interventions and interactions but do not seek a graduate degree

Program Courses

Each program cohort begins in September. The program includes five consecutive 6-week courses in the following areas and is co-taught by Melissa Winkle, Amy (Johnson) Binder, and well-respected guest lecturers. Each course must be completed in sequential order.

All courses will use one textbook: Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy (5th Edition), edited by Aubrey Fine, ISBN: 978-0128153956

  • Course 1: Introduction to Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions

    Introduction to Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions

    A historical and theoretical foundation for the inclusion of animals as a treatment alternative or adjunct to traditional practices in healthcare settings. An overview of training and practice competency guidelines, techniques, national registrations, ethics of practice, and animal welfare issues impacting the field of Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI). This course requires a community-based site visit in the student’s home community to be arranged by the student. This course is suitable for mental health, medical, and education professionals, visiting AAI/AAT volunteers, as well as anyone interested in the inclusion of animals in healing. Delivered in an interactive distance learning format, this course is open to English-speaking students nationally and internationally.

    • Demonstrate understanding of the component services that make up the field of AAI
    • Engage in meaningful and mutually beneficial human-animal relationships
    • Demonstrate the means to share one’s human-animal relationship with others to facilitate healing
    • Summarize the moral and ethical considerations for engaging animals in the professional healthcare environment
    • Generalize the application of AAI within the participant’s chosen healthcare discipline
    • Demonstrate knowledge of further training, evaluation, registrations, and/or certifications necessary to ethically practice AAI in healthcare disciplines
    • Demonstrate integration of research into theoretical practice frameworks


    Required Textbook

    Fine, A. (Ed.), (2019). Handbook on animal assisted therapy: Foundations and guidelines for animal-assisted interventions, 5th ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press/Elsevier. ISBN 978-0128153956.


  • Course 2: Animal Care Plans in Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions

    Animal Care Plans in Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions

    Preparing yourself and your animal to work in a therapeutic setting including concepts associated with the selection of animals, identifying signs of stress and enjoyment in dogs, using humane training methods, and more.


  • Course 3: Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Session Planning for Special Populations

    Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Session Planning for Special Populations

    Includes a closer look at vulnerable populations and considerations for implementing AAIs. Also covers treatment planning vs. session planning, having intentionality in practice, identifying outcomes for sessions, applying a theoretical framework, and more.


  • Course 4: Administrative Policies in Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions

    Administrative Policies in Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions

    Conducting risk assessments and management plans to mitigate risks, insurance for AAI practices, reviewing zoonotic concerns, and more.


  • Course 5: Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Capstone Project

    Animal-Assisted Interventions & Interactions Capstone Project

    The Capstone brings it all together. Mentored by your instructors and/or guest lecturers, students have the options of (1) Developing a final program proposal for their dream AAI program, (2) Conducting/Assisting an instructor-supported research project on a program of their choice (3) A reflection paper on your learning experience (4) A comprehensive literature review/bibliography for a research topic suggested by your instructor.


Professional Continuing Education Units & Division of Continuing Education CEUs

The instructors and lecturers in these certificate courses are credentialed with various professional credentialing bodies and the program may offer professional CEUs for the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), National Association for Social Workers (NASW), American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT).

University of North Florida Division of Continuing Education CEUs are also available to participants.


The instructors are active healthcare and human service professionals who have been in practice and have included AAIs for 41 combined years. They have been teaching AAIs at the university level since 2002, and AAI certificate programs since 2007. They have chosen UNF to launch their updated curriculum which includes several well-respected guest lecturers.

Amy (Johnson) Binder

Dr. Amy Binder, EdD, MA, MAT, LPC, CPDT-KA, UW-AAB, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and certified dog trainer. She founded (2005) and directs the non-profit, Teacher’s Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together, which pairs at-risk and adjudicated youth with harder-to-adopt shelter dogs for the benefit of both. Additionally, she piloted an apprenticeship program in Detroit bringing homeless youth into a city animal shelter as well as developed an education program for inmate workers at a municipal shelter. Previously, she developed and directed Oakland University’s online Animal Assisted Intervention Certificate Program and directed its Center for Human Animal Interventions for over 14 years. She is the Competencies and Ethics chair of the American Psychological Association Human Animal Interactions Division 17 and a Topics Editor for the journal Veterinary Sciences. She has published several journal articles and book chapters as well as presented internationally on the topic of Human Animal Interactions and Animal Assisted Interventions.

Melissa Y. Winkle

Melissa Y. Winkle OTR/L, FAOTA, CPDT-KA is an occupational therapist and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. She is President of Dogwood Therapy Services, an occupational therapy private practice and dog training facility in New Mexico, USA. Melissa is a founding member and current President of the European-based organization, Animal Assisted Intervention International. She has been involved with Oakland University, Center for Human Animal Interventions since 2014 in several capacities. Melissa is a practitioner, researcher, and writer and speaks internationally on disability, integrated community-based program development, animal-assisted interventions, and service dogs. She has published a series of books titled Professional Applications of Animal Assisted Interventions, available on Amazon.

Read more about whether your dog would make a suitable co-therapist in this article: Considerations for Selection, Evaluation and Suitability for Animal-Assisted Therapy
Winkle, M., Johnson, A., & Mills, D. (2020). Dog Welfare, Well-Being and Behavior: Considerations for Selection, Evaluation and Suitability for Animal-Assisted Therapy. Animals, 10(11), 2188.