Using Pets in Teletherapy

Who says we can’t use our pets in teletherapy?! Pets often interrupt our sessions online so why not use them in our sessions. Pets can be used for many different tasks such as social introductions, giving commands, and generating questions and comments. Many kids feel more comfortable talking to a pet than to adults or peers. We have all heard about animals being used to help children read aloud and comfort those in hospitals and nursing homes. Simply starting a session with pet introductions can ease the anxiety of performing verbally.

Pets can be used to work on adjectives (e.g. brown, shiny, big, long tail, white teeth, soft), producing longer utterances (e.g. the big brown dog is sleepy, big dog, etc.), spontaneous naming, using vocabulary in general (e.g. having kiddos ask the dog to follow commands-sit, stay, down, paw), requesting (e.g. more dog please), answering WH questions (e.g. what is the dog doing, where is the dog), articulation (e.g. the dog is sleeping, she wants a snack), spatial concepts (e.g. where should we put the bone-under her paw, behind, on her nose), and many more. Using pets can make language use more concrete and clients can practice concepts in real life. While many therapists use a therapy pet (usually a dog), it can be difficult bringing animals into the homes of children and laws and regulations are in place to keep people and animals safe. Many people have health conditions, allergies, and general fears of animals that make therapy pets difficult to use in face-to-face sessions. Using teletherapy, however, allows us to use our pets without added concerns of health, cleanliness, and anxiety.

Dogs in feeding therapy, no way! My dog is extremely food motivated and I used this as a model for younger clients. One of my young clients, who is in feeding therapy, loves to interact with my dog as he tries new foods. The other day I prompted him to pick up his banana, give it a lick or a “dog bite” and then feed my dog through the screen. I had a banana on my side of the screen and was feeding my dog small “dog bites” as he helped. This was extremely motivating for my client and my dog J. Pets makes therapy sessions fun for everyone involved and plants the seed of excitement for future sessions.

If none of the ideas listed above are feasible, that’s okay. Pets can simply act as topic generators, entertainers, or reinforcers when earning a rewarded break from “working hard.” People of all ages enjoy interacting with animals, especially from a distance. Pets can be a great way to motivate our clients so why not try it out and see how it goes for you!

— Paige Peterson M.S. CF-SLP

Paige is a first-year clinical fellow at Grays Peak Speech Services, LLC. She and her dog Mae, love doing teletherapy in early intervention and with our clients with Down syndrome. We are so glad she joined our team and has shown us ways to improve our digital sessions. Thank you Paige!


Jennifer Gray

Jennifer Gray

Jennifer Gray MS, CCC-SLP has specific training in feeding, oral-motor, and oral-placement therapies and currently specializes in treating those with motor speech disorders and dysarthria. She is currently treating, speaking, and writing about speech and feeding difficulties and abilities for those with the diagnosis of Down syndrome.

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