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Animal-Assisted Services Certificate Program

Welcome to the University of North Florida’s online Animal-Assisted Services (AAS) Certificate Program! The vision of the program creators is to promote the thoughtful and ethical practice of AAS by focusing on practitioner competency, quality client care, and optimal animal welfare and well-being.

The UNF AAS program includes five consecutive 6-week courses and provides the knowledge, skills, and values needed for successful planning and implementation of AAS in a professional or volunteer capacity for all branches of animal-assisted services (AAS) including animal-assisted activity/support programs, animal-assisted education, and animal-assisted therapy/treatment.

The curriculum caters to individual student interests with guidance in learning to navigate AAS literature, identify and access best practices, and gain practical skills for individuals or organizations to propose, evaluate, and develop an AAS program in the student’s choice of environments. The AAS program explores animal welfare practices, animal communication and behavior, session planning and implementation, program development, and administrative requirements.

This professional development certificate program is approaching its 20th anniversary with nearly 300 successful practitioners, creating a worldwide network of professionals demonstrating best practices. Upon successful completion of the University of North Florida’s Animal Assisted Services Certificate Program, individuals may use the credentials of Certificate in Human-Animal Interaction Specialist (CHAIS).

Animal-Assisted Services Information Sessions

Interested in learning more about our Animal-Assisted Services Certification program? Register for one of our upcoming online information sessions to see how we help you get certified.

April 17, May 22, June 12, July 17, August 21, and September 4, 2024.

Register for AAS Information Session

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

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

2024–2025 Schedule

Courses Dates
Foundations of Animal-Assisted Services September 17, 2024–October 22, 2024
Animal Welfare and Care Plans in Animal-Assisted Services November 5, 2024–December 10, 2024
Session Planning for Special Populations in Animal-Assisted Services January 7, 2025–February 11, 2025
Administrative Policies in Animal-Assisted Services February 25, 2025–April 1, 2025
Animal-Assisted Services Capstone April 15, 2025–May 20, 2025
Animal-Assisted Services Practicum April 25, 2025–April 27, 2025

Course Delivery

Each course has 5 recorded modules to accommodate international time zones and individual student schedules and one live final exam (attendance required) on the last Tuesday of each course. The live, virtual final exams are meant to be friendly, casual presentations in which each student presents brief components of their program. One live final presentation may be missed without penalty, providing the contents are turned in on time. The goal of this program is for participants to create foundational AAS programs and demonstrate proficiency. Students can expect weekly readings and assignments which require approximately 2 to 4 hours per week including recorded lectures. Each live final will be 1.5 to 2 hours to accommodate each student presenting 3–7 minutes, including feedback and questions.

Competencies in AAS

The lack of a global or national overarching governing body for certification or accreditation of any AAS has led to confusion, misinterpretation, and poor practices that involve AAS. This program will guide students in exploring terminology, standards, ethics, competencies, organization-specific accreditations/certifications, best practices, program proposals, evaluations, and development. The UNF AAS program uses the following as guidelines and teaching aids:

  • Competencies endorsed by the American Counseling Association
  • Standards and Competencies from Animal Assisted Intervention International (AAII)
  • International Association for Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO)
  • Pet Partners and the Association of Animal-Assisted Intervention Professionals (AAAIP)
  • Students will learn to find and evaluate literature that impacts evidence-based practice and applies to their species, setting, and population of choice based on their scope of practice

The curriculum was designed to satisfy general professional requirements for alternative, complementary, and specialty practice set forth by interdisciplinary governing bodies. Careful attention has been given to professional ethics, codes of conduct, and demonstration of competencies in any specialty areas.

This program guides students in seeking out information specific to their area of practice, and then evaluates their competency specific to their individual discipline, environments, populations, and the species they work with so that providers are offering services within their scope of practice.

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. Please check with your state or national organization for acceptance of this program and associated courses for continuing education unit application.

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, live course final exams presented to peers and instructors, and a capstone project specific to students' areas of interest, population, environment, and species.

In-person practicum will be offered as an additional certificate annually.

Course 1: Foundations of Animal-Assisted Services

  • Define terminology and taxonomy related to AAS
  • Identify theories and frameworks applicable to AAS
  • Identify AAS standards of practice & competencies for one's organization
  • Discuss how to apply standards into practice to become competent AAS providers 
  • List potential risks for animals working in AAS settings and determine how to mitigate risks
  • Evaluate scientific literature related to AAS
  • Formulate an AAS professional development plan 

Course 2: Animal Care Plans in Animal-Assisted Services

  • Apply welfare frameworks to the well-being of animals in AAS
  • Classify an animal's suitability through the process of selection, evaluation, and preparation of animals
  • Discuss dog body language, communication, and behavior, why positive reinforcement training is essential for AAS, and how to mitigate stress to maintain optimal animal welfare
  • Create behavior ethograms from video observation to evaluate signs of stress and relaxation in animals

Course 3: Session Planning for Special Populations in Animal-Assisted Services

  • Define significant human-animal relational moments (SHARMS) and the human-animal relational theory (HART)
  • Determine the suitability of participants for AAS through the use of a screening tool 
  • Develop rules of engagement for participants interacting with animals in AAS
  • Create session plans for participants in AAS 

Course 4: Administrative Policies in Animal-Assisted Services

  • Develop policies and procedures for AAS 
  • Create program risk assessment and management plan, including zoonotic risk factors
  • Identify liability coverage & insurance for AAS

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