ESAAT Members

The following definitions were developed and published by the ESAAT Board in 2022.

The goal is to rethink, modernize and professionalize the old ways.

In this way, ESAAT ensures the highest quality and sustainability. The following definition, which is also available for download, outlines our path to recognition by the EU.

Because human-animal relationship works!

Position Paper of the European Society of Animal Assisted Therapy (ESAAT)

Guidelines and policies - April 2022

© ESAAT 2022

Position Paper of the European Society of Animal Assisted Therapy (ESAAT)

Guidelines and policies April 2022


As a pan-European institution, the European Society of Animal Assisted Therapy (ESAAT) is guided by internationally recognized classification systems such as that of the International Classification of Functions (ICF) of the World Health Organization (WHO)

With the ICF, the WHO has created an instrument that provides a language and framework for describing health and health-related conditions in a uniform and standardized form.2 This describes functional ability, disability and health. The ICF model is multi-perspective and holistic. It is a biopsychosocial approach3. At its core is the dichotomy of the two umbrella concepts of functioning (functional health) and disability. They are viewed from the biological, individual and social levels.

The philosophy of the ICF consists of 5 aspects:

  • Human rights as a foundation: access to health and education are human rights and no one should be discriminated against because of a health problem or functional limitation.
  • Universal model: any person at any point in their life can have a health problem that becomes a disability in an environment that has a negative impact. Most people experience disabilities during their lifetime.
  • Bio-psycho-social understanding of disability: functioning can be altered at the level of the body, the person, or society, and solutions can be found at these levels.
  • Interdisciplinarity: no profession can cover all the special needs of people with disabilities; there is a risk of appropriation. A complex understanding that focuses on the person rather than the disability can only be achieved through a common, interdisciplinary language.
  • Environmental orientation: people live in a certain context of life, they are not only disabled, but they are also disabled. Only a deeper understanding of this interdependence opens up the perspectives for sustainable interventions and a meaningful combination of measures in the person and measures in the environment.

The ICF has led to the following consequences in a number of EU countries (e.g. Germany and Austria) and should be applied in a binding manner throughout the EU area:

  • it is an international classification system of the WHO family
  • it represents the basis for the socio-medical assessment of the Medical Service of the Health Insurance (MDK)
  • it is the basis for applications for rehabilitation services at the expense of the statutory health insurance scheme
  • it forms the basis for the prescription of remedies and aids

The overarching concept of the ICF is that of functional health (=functional ability), which is mapped in its components (body function and structure, and activity and participation).

ESAAT definitions

ESAAT uses the term “intervention” to describe all measures in the sense of “therapy”, “support”, “training”, “rehabilitation” as well as the “initiation of learning processes”. The term “intervention” thus represents, as it were, the general generic term for quite different intervention measures. According to the current quality principles in health care and education, it is essential that there is a clear goal orientation in the form of defined support, educational or therapeutic objectives. The term “goal orientation” is deliberately used here as opposed to specific “goal setting”. Although goal orientation can be presented differently from different perspectives (user, provider, family member, payer), its center is the client’s perspective.

Definition Animal Assisted Intervention

Animal-assisted intervention is based on scientific standards of related disciplines such as psychotherapy, psychology, medicine, pedagogy, ethology and veterinary medicine and the like.

Animal Assisted Intervention intentionally encompasses bio-psycho-social health and planned educational, psychological, and socially integrative services with animals from all professional health fields. Animal-assisted intervention can be applied to children, adolescents, adults as well as the elderly with cognitive (mental health), social-emotional and motor impairments and focal points of support across the spectrum of salutogenesis12 and pathogenesis13. Animal-assisted intervention takes place in individual and group settings.

The basis of animal-assisted intervention is the relationship and process design in the relationship triangle client – animal – caregiver. Animal-assisted intervention involves methods in which clients interact with, communicate through, or work for animals. The implementation is carried out in a goal-oriented manner based on a clear process and topic orientation, taking into account animal ethics principles, with subsequent documentation and expert reflection.

General goals of animal-assisted intervention are

1. restore and maintain physical, cognitive and socio-emotional functions,

2. to promote the abilities and skills to perform activities and actions,

3. to promote inclusion in the respective life situation and

4. Improve subjective well-being.

The aim is to ensure that the individual can act and participate in different areas of life according to his abilities.

The goals of the animal-assisted intervention are based on the indication of needs, resources and the disorder pattern as well as the need for support of the respective clients while simultaneously considering the animal welfare of the animals used in the One Health & Welfare approach.

Animal-assisted intervention is not limited to direct interaction with an animal alone, but includes all methods in which clients interact with, communicate through, or work for animals.

Definition Animal Assisted Intervention Specialist

Animal-assisted intervention is provided by an animal-assisted intervention specialist who has undergone qualified education and training. Specialized training courses are those that meet the criteria of ESAAT, are accredited by it and comprise at least 60 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System; equivalent to 1500 teaching units of work)14. ESAAT has formulated detailed requirements for its specialized training, which are in accordance with the European Quality Framework, as well as aligned with the Qualifications Framework for German Higher Education Qualifications. Equivalent training is to be valued accordingly. Depending on the type of animal used, further animal-specific training, which at least corresponds to the so-called “basic training” according to ESAAT criteria, must be completed. Animal-assisted intervention is provided by an animal-assisted intervention specialist. Ongoing, specialized, and documented continuing education in animal-assisted intervention of at least 20 units over two years is mandatory.

Tasks of the specialist for animal-assisted intervention

The task of the specialist for animal-assisted intervention is to support the person in his need for relief of his complaints, autonomy and personal and social integration through the accompanying use of an animal of equal dignity, voluntarily participating, or a therapy companion animal team (TTT). The specialist for animal-assisted intervention plans the measures on the basis of a wide variety of concepts and approaches for different target groups, carries them out in a goal-oriented manner and then documents them. The professional involves the social environment and other professionals involved in the development of the goal orientation and the process reflection of the individual client.

ESAAT Definition Basic Training

In the basic training, the therapy support animal team (TTT) is trained.

A TTT is used in educational, psychological, rehabilitative and socially integrative services for children, adolescents, adults and elders with cognitive, social-emotional and motor impairments, behavioral disorders and special needs. The specialist works with tested animals or guides the TTTs depending on the field of application. An assignment in one’s own professional field (e.g. pedagogues, therapists of various specifics, psychologists) as a trained TTT can take place independently within the framework of animal-assisted activities. For therapeutic work as defined or TGT in other professional fields, a specialist in animal-assisted interventions must be consulted. Exceptions are base teams (TTT) that provide visitation services as part of animal-assisted activities.

General goals of using therapy companion animal teams are:

1. helping to restore and maintain physical, cognitive and emotional functions,

2. assistance in promoting skills and abilities to perform activities and actions.

Training to become a therapy companion animal team must include a minimum of 75 teaching units in theory and practice according to ESAAT standards (see accreditation section)


  • Animal-assisted intervention is the umbrella term for all goal-oriented measures in which animals are used to accompany “therapy”, “support”, “training”, “rehabilitation” as well as “initiation of learning processes”. It also includes preventive and promotional measures.
  • Animal assisted intervention is a professional relationship situation with influence on humans.
  • The quality of animal-assisted intervention is critically dependent on the human-animal relationship. A positive effect of an animal results only if there is a constant, intensive, positive, appreciative, equal and partnership relationship between animal and caregiver and professional.

Animal Assisted Intervention and Animal Welfare

Special attention must be paid to the protection and well-being of the animal during animal-assisted intervention. The animals used must not be functionalized, exploited or overworked. Professionals must be able to recognize and interpret stress signals from the animals and thus assess the situation correctly. When stress levels are too high, they must take appropriate action and create fully optimal operating conditions for the animals at all times.

Animal ethics and animal-friendly use

ESAAT no longer takes an anthropocentric animal ethics approach to the use of animal partners, i.e. a human-centric approach, but a pathocentric approach. This means that the interests of animals as sentient beings are taken into account, valued and protected. The animal should, as far as possible, be able to act autonomously and realize its needs. Fundamental is the need-based attitude and work, which takes into account the individual abilities and preferences or antipathies of the animal. The current perspective on the animal status of TGI is changing to see them not as “less than” or “tools” but as individuals with likes, dislikes, and limitations

Use under duress is unethical and contrary to the concept of animal-assisted intervention under ESAAT principles.

Awareness of the multiple relationships inherent in TGI and the ability to negotiate them should be reflected in the TGI human’s attempt to give their animal the option to opt out at any time. The use of positive training methods must be taught and implemented in a mandatory manner to ensure learning without pain, fear, or coercion. The practice of animals merely tolerating interaction and following the commands of humans is to be explicitly rejected and unacceptable.

Adding a sentient being to a therapeutic or educational setting requires a high degree of skill on the part of the TGI person to appropriately (re)divide attention between all participants, obtain desired results, and respond appropriately to all participants during a session.

ESAAT supports the Five Domains Model, which expands on the “Five Freedoms” by providing an operational methodology for assessing conditions that impact animal welfare and influence the quality of the animal’s mental state17. The model encompasses more than an ideal or aspirational state and provides a guide for the assessment and management of animal welfare in the field.

Protection of the animal’s welfare and well-being should be defined by standards for training, preparation, socialization, and evaluation of the animal. The importance of the subjective experience of the animal must be emphasized. The Five Domain Model describes in detail the animal welfare approaches and their assessments, and lists examples of implementation that are also of fundamental importance in the field of TGI18.

TGI should be done with animals that are both physically and emotionally healthy and enjoy and seek this type of activity. TGI professionals are always responsible for the well-being of the animals they work with. They must consider the safety and well-being of all involved (humans and animals).

One Health & One Welfare

One Health is a concept that states that human, animal and environmental health are closely intertwined and interdependent. The One Health idea is based on a holistic, interdisciplinary approach and the understanding that we and all components of our environment are interrelated and interact. Thus, One Health can be understood as the evolution of the “Biophilia Hypothesis” (Edward O. Wilson, 1984) and has become the interface between humans, animals, and their respective ecosystems in which they and we live. The interdisciplinary approach of One Health has been extended by One Welfare, which recognizes the interrelationship between animal welfare, human well-being, and the environment (Pinillos, 2016)

WHO’s reference to emotional and social states is also echoed in “One Welfare,” which emphasizes the strong link between animal welfare and human health. “One Health and One Welfare” are relevant to animal-assisted interventions whose goals are similar: to improve human health, well-being, and functioning.

It would be unethical to initiate an animal-assisted intervention with the goal of improving the client’s well-being through a program that compromises the well-being of the animal or other individuals. In designing effective TGIs, facilities and users must ensure that adequate provisions and protocols are in place to continuously monitor and protect the health and welfare of all clients, staff, animal owners, visitors, and animals involved.


Part of the essence of professional action and professional autonomy is the establishment of quality criteria and standards, which includes the elaboration and definition of the term “animal-assisted intervention”. The focus is equally on the transparency of the goals, the need-based target group orientation, the professional competencies, the participation of the clients, the efficiency and effectiveness of the measures as well as the animal welfare of the animals used and the human-animal relationship.


Human-animal relationship WORKS!

ESAAT will continue, as in the past, to strive for the highest standards of human and animal welfare.

© ESAAT 2022

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