Human-Canine AAT Team Levels of Competency

At Therapy Dogs Australia, our Human-Canine Teams are expected to continue with their professional development in the field of Animal-Assisted Therapy. As such, we have designed levels of competency, to encourage our graduates to continue to strive in their training, to reach the higher levels. These levels are reflective of the Handler & Therapy Dogs abilities and experience in the field. 

This system is designed to protect the welfare of clients, referrers and employers when they make the decision to engage with a human-canine therapy team.  We keep a database of our graduate human-canine teams on this website under the 'Therapy Teams' tab. 

Levels Explained 

Level Learner 

A Human-Canine team may graduate as a level learner after the five-day course. Graduating as a Level Learner is for teams who are safe to work on lead within a private practice waiting room (to perform meet and greet), however, are not yet ready to enter therapy sessions together until additional training and re-assessment has been completed. We provide this level of graduation only to dogs who we believe are safe, however may still exhibit some lasting inappropriate behaviours, such as barking or jumping around. These dogs are not suitable for client work yet, as these behaviours are disruptive and distracting to both the client and the handler. This level is also reserved for handlers are still working on their handling skills and confidence. The purpose of this level is to allow the Dog & Handler to continue their learning in a workplace environment. Dogs who are not yet safe to have in this environment, or handlers who have not accomplished a suitable level of handling experience, will not be granted the Learner level. 

Level One (the highest level participants will be able to graduate at after attending the 5-day course)

To graduate as a level one handlers will demonstrate a sound knowledge in the training methods and respond appropriately to their dogs actions and behaviours. In addition, handlers will be able to demonstrate a sound knowledge in canine body language, canine health and well-being, as well as ethical considerations for both their dog and their clients. 

Dogs who graduate as a level one are dogs who are friendly and safe to be around. They are well behaved and listen to their handler’s instructions, on first command, at a minimum of 70% of the time. These dogs do not exhibit problem behaviours such as: barking, jumping or ignoring their handlers instructions. 

Dogs who graduate at this level will be able to:

Heel on head halter with commands if needed
Recall 70% of the time under distractions

Perform sit and drop consistently for their handlers, without treats
Perform long drop & Sit step-aways (distance & time)
Well socialized and friendly with other dogs, able to be off lead around other dogs

Suitable for:
Working off-lead in a controlled environment
Working within client’s homes
Working with people of all ages
Working on flat collar in most environments
Working on head halter in busier environments 

Level Two

A level two Human-Canine team is based not only on their skill set , but also experience within the workplace, and additional Personal Development completed (including attending Therapy Dogs Australia Group Training Days). To be assessed as a level two, Human-Canine teams must be able to demonstrate that they are able to operate safely both on and off lead in a range of different environments. In addition, teams must be able to display that they have been working together in a safe, professional, and ethical manner within their chosen profession for a minimum of six-months.

Suitable for:
Working off-lead in a controlled environment
Working within client’s homes
Working with people of all ages
Working on flat collar in busier environments

Level Three

A level three must be able to demonstrate continued experience, professionalism, and commitment to the industry. They must be able to show that they have been actively working as a Human-Canine team for a minimum of two years within their profession within a range of different environments, as well as continue to show a commitment to ongoing professional development within the industry (including attending Therapy Dogs Australia Group Training Days). 

While a Level Three team are highly experienced, these teams are not required to be capable of performing all tasks. Achievement of this level is based on the handlers relationship with their canine, handling skills and understanding their and their dogs limitations and operating within these limits.

Suitable for:
Working in busier environments such as schools
Working in hospitals and nursing homes

Working off lead in all environments when appropriate