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How To Make Your Dog A Therapy Dog

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Are you wondering how to make your dog a therapy animal? It’s vital to know that not all pets qualify, but with the right steps, many can. This post will guide you through training your pooch into a certified helper that brings joy and comfort to others.

Let’s start!

Understanding Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs provide comfort and emotional support to people in various settings. They differ from assistance dogs as they are not trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities.

What is a therapy dog?

A therapy dog is a canine that offers comfort and support to people in hospitals, retirement homes, schools, and other places. These dogs help with mental health by letting individuals pet them, which can lower stress and increase happiness.

Therapy dogs must be calm, friendly, and good with all sorts of people. They work alongside their handlers to bring joy to those who may be facing tough times due to illness or loneliness.

Before a dog can start this important job, they need training in basic obedience and must pass certifications like the Canine Good Citizen test from the American Kennel Club. Certificates come from national organisations known for their standards in therapy animal work.

After getting certified, these dogs are ready to make positive changes in many lives. Now let’s talk about how different they are from assistance animals.

Difference between therapy dogs and assistance dogs

Therapy dogs and assistance dogs have different roles. Therapy dogs bring joy and comfort to people in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. They do not help one person with tasks but meet many to spread happiness.

Assistance dogs are trained for specific tasks to help a person with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These canines might guide someone who cannot see, or alert someone who cannot hear.

To become a therapy dog, your pet needs certification from a reputable group. This shows they can behave well around various people. For an assistance dog, training is more detailed because they must perform certain jobs for their owner’s needs.

Both types need good manners but serve in unique ways.

Moving on, let’s explore if any canine can be a therapy animal.

Can Any Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

All dogs have the potential to become therapy dogs with the right traits and training. Training your dog for therapy work is achievable with dedication and patience.

Characteristics to look for in a therapy dog

A therapy dog brings comfort and joy to people in various settings like hospitals and schools. They need a certain set of qualities to be effective in their role. Here are characteristics essential for a therapy dog:

  1. Calm demeanor: Dogs with a calm nature do well in environments that require patience, such as residential care homes or with physiotherapists helping patients with stroke recovery.
  2. Friendliness: A therapy dog must enjoy meeting new people. They should approach strangers happily and allow themselves to be petted without reservation.
  3. Obedience training: Basic commands like sit, stay, come, and walking nicely on a leash are crucial. This training ensures the dog can behave well during visits.
  4. Good health: A healthy dog is vital for therapy work to avoid passing illnesses to or getting sick from humans they interact with.
  5. Adaptability: Therapy dogs encounter different environments, from schools where children might be loud and lively to quiet hospital rooms. They must adjust their behaviour accordingly.
  6. Patience: Patients in rehabilitation or those with conditions like dementia may move slowly or repeat actions towards the dog, requiring immense patience from the animal.
  7. Confidence: Dogs working in therapy cannot be shy or overly fearful; they need confidence to handle unfamiliar sounds, smells, and sights effectively.
  8. Grooming habits: Well-groomed dogs not only present better but also pose less of a risk of carrying allergens into sensitive environments like healthcare facilities.
  9. Non-verbal communication skills: Since dogs can’t talk, they must understand and respond to non-verbal cues from both their handlers and the people they’re assisting.
  10. Affectionate nature: The ability to give and receive affection is key for building strong bonds with those who need emotional support.
  11. Strong bond with handler: A therapy dog’s relationship with its handler affects its performance. Handlers must have complete confidence in their dogs for successful visits.
  12. Proper etiquette for visits includes being able to calmly enter and exit buildings, quietly sitting by someone’s side, and knowing when a visit is over without becoming anxious or restless.

Each characteristic plays an integral part in preparing a dog for therapy work, emphasising the importance of both nature (the dog’s inherent traits) and nurture (training and socialisation).

Training and certification requirements

Training your dog to become a therapy dog involves specific steps. It ends with obtaining certification from a respected national body.

  1. Ensure your dog has the right qualities: Therapy dogs must be calm, well-mannered, and have a friendly personality.
  2. Start with basic training: Your dog needs to follow basic commands like sit, stay, come, and down without hesitation.
  3. Attend socialisation classes: These help your dog get used to different people, settings, and other animals.
  4. Pass the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test: This is a prerequisite for many therapy dog programmes and proves your dog can behave well in various situations.
  5. Consider additional training classes that focus on animal-assisted therapy: These classes prepare both you and your dog for real-life visits.
  6. Choose a reputable organisation for certification: Look for organisations known for their rigorous testing standards to ensure quality.
  7. Complete any specific training courses required by the certifying organisation: This often includes learning how to handle health care environments and understanding patient privacy laws.
  8. Pass the therapy dog evaluation test offered by the certifying body: This tests your dog’s ability to handle stressful situations and behave appropriately around different people.
  9. Keep up with continuing education and re-certification as required: Some organisations require regular checks to ensure that therapy dogs continue to meet their high standards.
  10. Always work under an established volunteer programme when visiting facilities like hospitals or schools: They will help coordinate visits that match your dog’s abilities with people’s needs.

Focusing on these steps helps create a positive impact through animal-assisted therapy while ensuring safe interactions between your dog and those benefiting from its presence.

How to Train Your Dog to Be a Therapy Dog

Train your dog to be a therapy dog using positive reinforcement techniques. Ensure that the training is tailored towards building a strong bond with your pet.

Positive reinforcement techniques

Use treats and praise to reward your dog for good behavior. This method shows them what actions are right without needing punishment. It’s a powerful way to train dogs, especially when making them therapy dogs.

Start by giving your dog a small treat for sitting or staying calm. Add kind words and petting to make the reward even better. This approach helps build trust and makes learning enjoyable for both of you.

Keep training sessions short and fun. Dogs learn best in happy, stress-free environments. Use toys as rewards too; they can be just as exciting as treats. Mix up the rewards to keep things interesting for your pup.

Focusing on positive reinforcement encourages dogs to repeat good behaviors because they want the happy outcome that follows.

Tips for Working with Your Therapy Dog

When volunteering with your therapy dog, it’s crucial to choose the right organisation. Read more to learn ways you can improve your experience.

Choosing the right organisation to volunteer with

Finding the right place to volunteer with your therapy dog matters a lot. Look for groups that match your values and interests. Some focus on visiting hospitals, while others may spend time in schools or care homes.

Make sure they accept the certification your dog has earned, like CGC or other respected badges from national bodies.

It’s also important to ask about their support and training opportunities. A good organisation will help you and your pup prepare for visits, offering advice on how to handle various situations.

They should also respect your boundaries and have clear policies in place for the health and safety of everyone involved.

Building a strong bond with your dog

Once you find the right organisation to volunteer with, it’s crucial to focus on building a strong bond with your dog. This bond is not just about love; it’s about trust and understanding too.

Spend time each day playing, training, and simply being together. These moments strengthen your connection. Training plays a big part here as well. Using positive reinforcement helps your dog learn quickly and builds their confidence.

Make sure your interactions are always calm and gentle. Dogs pick up on body language fast, so your calmness tells them they’re safe with you. Learn to read their signs of stress or discomfort and respond appropriately to boost their self-esteem.

This way, when you start working as a team in animal-assisted therapy sessions or visiting healthcare facilities, both of you will feel confident and ready to spread joy together.

Proper etiquette for therapy dog visits

  1. Greeting: Always ask the handler before approaching or petting the therapy dog.
  2. Respect Boundaries: Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that may startle the dog.
  3. Hygiene: Ensure clean hands and refrain from touching the dog’s equipment without permission.
  4. Attention to Dog: Focus on interacting with the therapy dog rather than the handler.
  5. Body Language: Use calm and gentle gestures when interacting with the dog.
  6. Avoid Distractions: Refrain from feeding or giving treats to the therapy dog without permission.
  7. Supervision: Children should always be closely supervised during interactions with therapy dogs.
  8. Encouragement: Praise the therapy dog for their good behavior and comply with any instructions given by its handler.

These guidelines are crucial for ensuring a positive experience for both the therapy dog and those they visit, promoting a safe and comfortable environment for everyone involved in animal-assisted therapy.

Handling challenging situations

Training a therapy dog involves preparing for various challenging situations, ensuring both the dog and its handler are equipped to handle them. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Understanding your dog’s stress signals and knowing when to remove them from a situation.
  2. Being prepared for unexpected reactions from the individuals being visited, such as sudden movements or loud noises.
  3. Practicing calming techniques for your dog in case they become anxious or agitated during visits.
  4. Knowing how to navigate through different environments and adapt to changing circumstances during therapy sessions.
  5. Being mindful of the physical and emotional well-being of your dog amidst demanding or emotionally charged situations.

These strategies will help you and your therapy dog confidently face any challenges that may arise during your volunteering activities.

Next up: Conclusion


Becoming a therapy dog involves training, certification, and the right temperament. Any dog with the right qualities can become a therapy dog. Training your dog using positive reinforcement is key.

Remember to choose the right organisation for volunteering. Work on building a strong bond with your pup and focus on proper etiquette during visits. It’s an achievable goal that’s worth pursuing!


1. What steps should I take to make my dog a therapy dog?

First, your dog needs proper training from skilled dog trainers to ensure they behave well. Then, get them evaluated by a health care professional who specialises in animal assisted therapy.

2. Can any breed become a therapy dog?

Yes! Breeds like Welsh Springers, Yorkshire Terriers, French Bulldogs, and Beagles can all become therapy dogs with the right training and temperament.

3. What qualities does my dog need to have to be a good therapy dog?

Your pup should be friendly, patient, confident, gentle in all situations and must enjoy human contact.

4. Where can my therapy dog work once they are qualified?

Therapy dogs often work in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes providing comfort and support through emotional support animal services.

5. How long does it take for a pooch to become certified as a therapy animal?

The time it takes varies depending on the service animals’ learning pace but expect several months of consistent training before getting certified as a service dog for therapeutic purposes.