About Therapy Dogs
Thinking about getting your dog certified as a therapy dog?
If you have a passion for raising a healthy and happy pup who shares unconditional love
with those who need it most, then this is the place for you.
What is a therapy dog?
Therapy dogs are privately owned pets who have been registered or certified by a recognized therapy dog organization to visit people in need with their owner/handler. Therapy dogs visit people to provide comfort, support healing, increase emotional well-being, and improve quality of life for the people and staff whose lives the dogs touch.
Therapy dogs and their handlers are volunteers.
Therapy dogs are NOT service animals. They do not receive any of the same access privileges under the Americans with Disabilities Act that a service animal does. For clarification, please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA published by the U.S. Department of Justice.
If you skip to 0:50 in the short video below, you’ll get right to Zak George’s explanation of how service dogs are different than therapy dogs and emotional support dogs.
How do I know if my dog would make a good therapy dog?
For the majority of therapy dog organizations, your dog will need to be at least one-year old.
Your dog may be pure-bred or mixed breed. What's key for therapy dog work is your dog's temperament and demeanor, especially around people. If your dog likes meeting people, loves receiving pets, remains calm even when people get carried away with affection, knows how to walk politely on a loose-leash, and keeps all four paws on the floor, then you may have a dog who would enjoy doing therapy work.
After seven months of living with Bernie McSquare, I had an experience that solidified for me, his desire to help people. Read about our therapy dog origin story from Christmas Eve 2016.
If you've been working with a trainer, ask your trainer to give you an honest assessment of whether or not your dog would be a good fit for therapy dog work. If your trainer sees anything that might interfere with your dog passing an evaluation like an abundance of enthusiasm, they may be able to give suggestions for exercises and activities to support your dog on your journey to becoming a certified team.
Each therapy dog organization will have specific criteria for joining their group. Be sure to do your research and find the organization that you know you would work well with.
How long will it take to train my dog for therapy dog certification?
That answer varies for every dog. The evaluation, training, and testing process varies by therapy dog organization as well.
A solid training goal for any therapy dog is to pass the Canine Good Citizen Test. This AKC test requires your dog to perform ten different tasks with a certified evaluator.
If you're looking for training tips and inspiration for this test, try reading about some of the various exercises I've done with Bernie and Lizzie.
What places do therapy dogs visit?
Therapy dog teams have a wide array of choices for facilities they may visit. The list below is an overview and should not be considered comprehensive. Individual facilities may contact therapy dog organizations to ask for visits, so different communities will have different opportunities.
Watch this five minute video to see therapy dogs visiting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and hear the numerous benefits they bring to the patients. You may want to grab a few tissues!
What organizations certify or register dogs as therapy dogs?
Why do I have to work with a therapy dog organization?
Having your dog certified by a recognized therapy dog organization provides you and your dog with credibility with potential visitation facilities. You may also have opportunities for training and continuing education.
You'll also have the peace of mind knowing that you and your dog are covered by the liability insurance policy of the certifying therapy dog organization. Not every therapy dog organization offers liability insurance. Be sure to do your research and ask what coverage they provide in exchange for annual dues.
Does pet therapy really make a difference?
Therapy dog stories pop up in the news every week. While much of this coverage is anecdotal, the smiling faces of the recipients of a dog's unconditional love do not lie.
Below, I've collected news stories covering recent scientific research into the effectiveness of therapy dog work. I'll be updating this section as reports of new studies are published, so be sure to check back. Remember to book mark this page or Pin it for later.
From News Channel Five in Nashville: Vanderbilt nursing professor launches study on therapy dogs and children battling cancer (Study runs through 2020.)
From Science Daily: Therapy dogs effective in reducing symptoms of ADHD, study finds
From Oncology Nursing News: Pet therapy brings comfort to patients with cancer
Want to read more about the Canines and Childhood Cancer Study? Check out the press release from American Humane.
From Science Daily: Sit, stay, heal: Study finds therapy dogs help stressed university students
From the American Psychiatric Association: Therapy dogs: helping improve lives of people with mental illness
Therapy dogs are starting to be used in funeral homes, courts of law, and police departments, Here in Arizona, the Pima County Sheriff's Department and the Mesa Police have adopted therapy dogs who will work with an officer handler to help the victims of crime and traumatic events.
From the Arizona Daily Star: Contest to name yellow Lab pup, the 1st therapy dog for Pima County Sheriff's Department
From the Arizona Daily Sun: Mesa police add their first therapy dog to special victims unit