Therapy dogs are trained to show affection and support humans. They can visit schools, hospitals, assisted living homes and counseling offices.
Some therapy dog/handler groups offer support and petting opportunities, as well as the opportunity to work with healthcare professionals (animal-assisted treatment) or participate in literacy programs (read-tothe-dogs).
Therapy dogs are not allowed to travel or live in places that prohibit pets. Therapy dogs are not trained like service or emotional support dogs. They are trained to be focused on one person, but therapy dogs can interact with multiple people in different settings for short periods of time.
Therapy dogs are qualified
Your dog must be registered as a therapy dog
Minimum age of 1 year. Some programs require that the minimum age be 18 or 24 months.
Therapy dog/handler teams are a unit. Dog and handler train together and are tested together. They also make visits together. You, as the handler, must also meet these requirements. The therapy dog handler should:
Have fun interacting with people.
Training therapy dogs
Therapy dogs and their handlers work together under the guidance of healthcare professionals to help clients reach specific goals in animal-assisted therapy programs. Getty Images
Although there are no requirements to be a therapy dog owner, some programs like Intermountain Therapy Animals and Pet Partners require that prospective handlers attend training workshops with their dogs.
All therapy dog organizations screen handler/dog teams. As preparation for these entry-level exams, some dog trainers and pet supply shops like Petco offer training classes for therapy dogs. The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test (CGC) is included in most preparation classes. Dogs are expected to perform in the CGC test.
Accept to be petted by a stranger. Sit politely while they leave the room.
Test your skills
Therapy dog organizations often use the CGC test to test their skills. Then they add behavior that demonstrates a desire to work with therapy dogs. Dogs are expected to be friendly with people during this portion of the test.
Keep calm during an overall exam.
How can I get my therapy dogs certified?
Some therapy dog associations use the term “certification,” but most prefer “registration.” While anyone can buy an official-looking therapy pet vest, certificate and ID badge online, what really matters for facilities that accept therapy dogs is their screening, training and liability insurance. These essentials are not provided by online sites that register therapy dogs or certify them for a fee.
Legitimate therapy dog organizations, on the other hand, offer support and training to handlers, visits to prescreened facilities, social events and liability insurance for handler teams that are members in good standing. There are many things to consider when signing up for membership. These include background checks, fees, renewal schedules and time commitments.
Important concepts for handlers
Although therapy dogs are the star of every visit, their handlers are crucial. Dog handlers who are proactive in therapy can anticipate problems and help their dogs avoid uncomfortable situations. Kathy Klotz is the executive director of Intermountain Therapy Animals.
Dogs should be treated as partners and not just tools to serve our needs. Dogs should be treated with respect and appreciation. Only a small percentage of dogs, some experts say only 10%, have the right temperament to enjoy therapy work. Dogs who don’t like their job won’t make a connection with clients and will not be able to give hugs and greetings. It is important for handlers to take the initiative to ensure that clients don’t interact with their dogs in ways that they are not comfortable with. How can I learn more?
You can find out which national therapy-dog organization is right for you and your pet dog by visiting their websites (linked below). These sites provide detailed information about animal-assisted interactions and explain the requirements and approaches of each organization.
Alliance of Therapy Dogs, formerly Therapy Dogs, Inc.Bright and Beautiful Therapy DogsIntermountain Therapy AnimalsLove on a LeashPet Partners, previously Delta SocietyTherapy Dogs InternationalFor local organizations, see the AKC’s list of recognized therapy dog organizations at tinyurl.com/WDJ-local-therapydog
These books are also great resources.
Ann R. Howie, Purdue University Press 2015, Teaming up with Your Therapy Dog
Katha Miller-Winder’s Guidance and Advice on Becoming a Therapy Dog team: Independently published 2021
What is a Therapy Dog? Whole