Pet Play Therapy: Using Animals to Help Children

Pet play therapy: Kirrie helps with the doggie gumball machine

Kirrie helps with the doggie gumball machine

Pet Play Therapy is a way to use pets to help children deal with various emotional and behavioral problems. This week’s guest defines pet play therapy this way:

“the integrated use of animals in the context of play therapy, in which appropriately-trained therapists and animals engage with children and families primarily in play interventions aimed at improving the child’s psychosocial health and the animal’s well-being. Play and playfulness are essential ingredients of the interactions and the relationship.”

Pet Play Therapy on the Animal Cafe

I spoke to Dr. Risë Van Fleet about her pet play therapy program and how she uses dogs (and other pets too!) to help children work through various problems and communicate better with adults. For example, how can you use a simple “trick” to help a child that is afraid of the dark? How did some well-timed counter-surfing prove to be fortuitous for Dr. Van Fleet?

Of course dogs love to play, so pet play therapy is a way to use that drive and curiosity to help children try different activities and become curious enough to experiment and learn. Dr. Van Fleet discusses the different games the dogs can play with children and how these games are integrated into a therapy plan.

Pet Play Therapy: playing with lights

Kirrie with her night light!

Both animal assisted therapy and play therapy are well-documented ways to help children (and adults) and pet play therapy is a logical extension and works extremely well. It is also a great demonstration of how the human-animal bond is proving to be more and more beneficial for both humans and pets.

Dr. Risë Van Fleet

Risë VanFleet, Ph.D., RPT-S is a licensed psychologist and registered play therapist-supervisor with 35 years of clinical and leadership experience in a variety of settings. She is the president of the Family Enhancement & Play Therapy Center, Inc. in Boiling Springs, PA. She is the clinical consultant for the Beech Street Program. Dr. VanFleet is the founder of the International Collaborative on Play Therapy and a Past President/Board Chair of the Association for Play Therapy. She has authored several books on filial/family therapy, numerous chapters on play therapy, and is featured on 4 DVD workshops. Risë has trained thousands worldwide, and she has received 2 prestigious national awards for her work.

Dr. Van Fleet with Kirrie

Dr. Van Fleet has a very active Facebook group that you can join, as well as the Playful Pooch fan page where you can find news and articles about pet play therapy. Kirrie has some notes on her own over here on Facebook!


  1. […] the original post: Pet Play Therapy: Using Animals to Help Children — Animal Cafe Related Reading: (function() {var s = document.createElement('SCRIPT'), s1 = […]

  2. […] learn more about Pet Play Therapy, listen to the podcast on Animal Cafe and then come back on Wednesday, June 8, 9pm EST to have a (playful?) chat with Dr. Van Fleet on […]

  3. […] Kids often find  it hard to talk to grown-ups and dogs are wonderful intermediaries. In her pet play therapy work, Dr. Van Fleet uses what dogs do as a  metaphor to  help children learn by example, recognizing mistakes in behavior similar to their own and much more.  Learning to train dogs to perform some simple commands is a part of pet therapy that helps children develop a sense of competence, building confidence. This information-packed interview with Dr. Van Fleet by Eric Goebelbecker is available at Animal Cafe. […]