Therapy Animals

We have educational opportunities for all different kinds of people, animals, and clients

Whether you’re brand new to Animal Assisted Therapy or you’ve been a handler for years, we offer educational events and classes to help everyone become better teams with their animal partner. Our AAI public assessments only take 20 - 30 minutes and provide you with a written report on behaviors and/or situations where you will be successful and/or challenged. Our six-week group classes provide teams the opportunity to practice real-world situations in the safety of a classroom with feedback provided by our instructors and experienced volunteers. Community Events are often shorter, one day events, where speakers may present about a special topic or we have animals other than dogs involved. Scroll to the end of this page to learn about the educational options available to help you decide what will work best for you and your animal partner.

Pet Partners Therapy Animal Handler Course - In Person

For prospective volunteers in the U.S. and Canada. You MUST complete this course (online or in-person) before attending a Team Evaluation.

June 29, 2024

9:00am - 6:30pm

Gresham, OR

$150 (lunch included)

You are REQUIRED to register for this class via the Pet Partners website and course catalog.

Humans who complete this course in person have a higher pass rate at their first team evaluation. The PowerPoint is the same online or off but the in-person class allows for role playing and asking questions with real time answers.

Developing Your Therapy Dog Team

Therapy animal work is teamwork. In this 6-week class we will cover dog behavior for successful Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) as well as skills the human handler will need to bring to the team. We teach how these two partners can work together to best achieve the goals, and best practices, associated with AAI.

Classes will include a variety of medical equipment, “friendly strangers” (including children), practice sessions, and props, for the team to practice with and navigate as they learn about AAI and themselves.

This class is taught by Robynn Harris. Robynn has over ten years of experience in the AAI world having volunteered in schools, libraries, prisons, medical clinics, hospitals, and a variety of other facilities. She continues to work in AAI as a Volunteer Instructor with Pet Partners, a Team Lead with HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response, and the Lead AAI Volunteer at Legacy Mt Hood Medical Center.


- Dogs must be at least one year old

- Dogs must already have strong “sit,” “down,” “come,” and “stay” cues.

Actualizing Your Therapy Dog Team

As in all professions, continuing education is how AAI teams stay informed and grow stronger as a team. Our Actualizing Your Therapy Dog Team class is for teams who are currently registered/certified with an organization and/or already working in the real world. Just as old dogs can learn new tricks, seasoned AAI teams can learn new methods to provide deeper care in more challenging circumstances. This class is six weeks long and 90minutes per session. The longer class time allows us to practice and learn about the more complex areas of AAI. We will have more challenging practicums and take a deeper look into the science of how AAI can best help in specific situations with specific types of clients.

Topics will include a deeper dive into:

- How best to help different children when participating in a variety of different “read to the dog” programs.

- We will examine canine body language at a deeper level to help teams navigate the more stressful aspects of AAI such as Animal Assisted Crisis Response work.

- We will discuss and practice specific fitness and conditioning exercises to help teams manage stress after local shifts and while on longer deployments. These exercises will help build the bond between human and dog as well as contribute to the dog’s overall longevity in the profession and in life.

- We will discuss psychological safety and psychological first aid to help aid clients as well as the team.

- Some class time will be dedicated to answering and thinking about questions and challenges directly from the students.

This class is taught by Robynn Harris. Robynn has over ten years of experience in the AAI world having volunteered in schools, libraries,prisons, medical clinics, hospitals, and a variety of other facilities. She continues to work in AAI as a Volunteer Instructor with Pet Partners, a Team Lead with HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response, and is the Lead AAI Volunteer at Legacy Mt Hood Medical Center. Robynn pulls from her experience and education with Reading Education Assistance Dogs, Animal Assisted Play Therapy,Pet Partners, University of Tennessee’s Canine Arthritis Rehabilitation Exercise & Sports Medicine, Multnomah Bible College, Emerson Theological Institute, and many other dog and human educational resources.


- Currently Registered or Certified with a therapy animalorganization or previously taken Developing Your Therapy Dog Team with AWS.

Volunteering with Your Pet

This 90 minute presentation is designed to orient you to the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program as a way of volunteering with your pet in your community. We’ll cover requirements and the process for registering with Pet Partners. If any of you who decide that volunteering with your animal isn’t a good fit for you or your animal, — we’ll also discuss other ways that you can get involved.

Gresham, OR

Private AAI Lessons and/or Assessments

Our instructor, Robynn Harris, is also available for private therapy classes, lessons, and/or assessments. All assessments include in-person observations followed by a written assessment.

Therapy Dog Assessment: We meet in public where our trainer can observe your dog engaging in the behaviors expected in therapy dog work. 30 minutes - $75

AAI Evaluation Prep Workshop

All teams, the human and the dog, can benefit from practicing and discussing the behaviors needed for Animal Assisted Interventions (AAI) and evaluations.

This workshop is an intense, one day, three hour class, where we will practice the skills and behaviors needed in AAI and at AAI evaluations. Our lead trainer, Robynn Harris, has been a licensed Pet Partners Volunteer Instructor for over five years and has been teaching hands-on therapy dog classes for almost ten years.

We will NOT be conducting a mock evaluation. We WILL be practicing all the skills needed for best practices in AAI which will cover the skills needed for the majority of AAI evaluations.

Please contact us if you have any questions about this workshop or any other AAI training questions. (We may be able to accommodate animals other than dogs in this workshop.)

Next Date: TBA

1:00pm - 4:00pm

Gresham, OR

$125 - Currently licensed AAI teams or proof of Pet Partners Therapy Animal Handler Workshop completion

$250 - All other dog teams

$50 - Audit (no dog)

Your dog must be bathed and groomed within 24 hours of the workshop.

Quotes from some of our AAI Students

“Robynn's workshop was an excellent balance of providing challenges for my dog such as the use of props, including medical equipment props, making unexpected noises, practicing loose leash skills, practicing ‘leave it’, as well as providing different hands-on touching experiences that happen during the AAI evaluation. Robynn also mixed in some of the skills such as the ‘stay’ command and the ‘come’ command using a long leash. Introducing a ‘new dog’ to the mix of dogs was also beneficial.”

“I would definitely recommend this workshop. Robynn has a special gift as an instructor and an animal lover. I felt she really wants us all to succeed in our goals to be volunteering in the community in some capacity. For those who have not been to an evaluation yet, Robynn pulled the curtain back to show us there's no mystery to it. Her suggestion to volunteer at a few evaluations is invaluable. I have done this in the past. Robynn's the best!!!!!”

"Although I was auditing the class without my dog, the information provided was very helpful. It tied together the Handler Guide material with what is expected during an actual evaluation."

“Anyone preparing for their evaluation should take this workshop. It can be isolating to practice alone and think you're preparing your dog as best you can. It helps to be in a room with like minded people and listen to their questions, concerns and expectations. Since we all have the common goal to do AAI with our pet, it is enriching to be surrounded by everyone and their pets in the same room together. Thank you Robynn!!!!”

"The agility related props were a good test of whether one's dog could handle uncertain surfaces, noise, and objects. Some dogs handle these challenges well while others can get really stressed. Until you observe how your dog handles these physical obstacles and noise, you may not realize what might stress your dog."

“Learned new information -- ie. take 2nd leash/collar/ to visits Handouts were good reminders! Communicating with masks on! Wow! Good Practice!”

“I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought maybe all the dogs were well down the road to being a therapy dog and it would be very formal. Loved that it was a learning environment for all and that everyone was at different levels. I loved that interactions, discussion and questions were encouraged, and that it was flexible and adjusted based on the class and how the dogs reacted. It gave me a much better idea of what to expect and a sense of how [my dog] would react. Thoroughly enjoyed the class and we both learned a lot!”

Pictures Taken from Different AAI Classes

Where to Start?

I cannot recommend these two books enough!

If you’re wanting to do volunteer AAI work you should read Ann Howie’s Teaming With Your Therapy Dog. Ann has worked as a mental-health therapist since 1987, and has often incorporated animals as her therapeutic partners. Her knowledge and experience put her at the forefront of therapy animal work. Ann was the national Director of Animal-Assisted Therapy Services at Pet Partners from 1995-2000. I consider this book THE textbook for AAI teams. Ann reminds all handlers that being conscious of what we do with our dogs helps them do their best work, and can also increase the effectiveness of our visits.

If you’re wanting your pet to be your professional partner then you’re going to want to read Risë VanFleet and Tracie Faa-Thompson’s book, Animal Assisted Play Therapy. Risë and Tracie put their combined 75 years of experience working professionally with animals and people into this prodigious book. While the focus of this book is on mental health professionals, the approach and methods covered can easily be adapted for use by allied health professionals, such as physical, occupational, speech, and recreational therapists as well as those in the educational field such as teachers and school counselors.

~Robynn Harris, CCFT

The Therapy Dog’s Bill of Rights.

Author: Ann Howie

As a therapy dog, I have the right to a handler who

-Obtains my consent to participate in the work

-Provides gentle training to help me understand what I’m supposed to do

-Is considerate of my perception of the world

-Helps me adapt to the work environment

-Guides the client, staff, and visitors to interact with me appropriately

-Focuses on me as much as the client, staff, and visitors

-Pays attention to my non-verbal cues

-Takes action to reduce my stress

-Supports me during interactions with the client

-Protects me from overwork

-Gives me ways to relax after sessions

-Provides a well-rounded life with nutritious food, medical care, physical and intellectual exercise, social time, and activities beyond work

-Respects my desire to retire from work when I think it is time

The Power of Positive Training

August 19, 2020

From Pet Partners

Whether you’re training your cat in skills they’ll need to become a therapy animal, or simply want your dog to stop stealing your dirty socks, positive training methods are the way to go. Learn about what positive training is, why punishments don’t work, and how we at Pet Partners make sure that animal welfare during training is a top priority.

Motivation for Training Your Therapy Animal

July 14, 2020

From Pet Partners

You’ve brought a new pet home who you think might be a great therapy animal (perhaps one you adopted from a shelter), and you’ve taken some time to prepare them for experiences they might have as a therapy animal. Now you have the opportunity to focus on specific training for your pet.

Preparing Your Pet for Therapy Animal Work

June 6, 2022

From Pet Partners

If you’re interested in becoming a therapy animal team with your pet, you’ll want to take time to get your animal ready for doing this work. The most important aspect of a successful therapy animal is their temperament; but they’ll also need some preparation for the kinds of experiences they’ll have during therapy animal visits. This preparation will help them be comfortable and happy as therapy animals.

About Us

Robynn Harris, ODMN, CCFT, has been an AAI Handler since 2014. She became a registered therapy dog handler for Pet Partners in 2015. She has such passion for therapy animal work she became a licensed Pet Partners instructor in 2017. In 2018 she founded Pet Partners of Portland and currently serves as President. In 2022 Robynn became a Team Leader with HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response.

Robynn has been teaching hands-on Therapy Dog Prep classes for over eight years. Many of her students are currently registered therapy animal teams working across the U.S. for Pet Partners, HOPE AACR, and other AAI organizations.

Robynn and her therapy dog Schatzi have worked in schools, prisons, hospitals, libraries, and virtually. Robynn currently is the Lead AAI Volunteer at Legacy Mt Hood Medical Center where you can still find her working with the therapy dog teams bringing a bit of joy to patients, visitors, and staff during these extraordinary times.

(Schatzi retired from AAI work in Oct 2022. She is now a Facility Dog at our classroom location. Schatzi is completely enjoying her retirement.)

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