Therapy Dog Training


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What is a therapy dog

A therapy dog is a pet that is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, and even prisons.

Some dogs may just need a little extra training while others need advanced training before they can become certified as a therapy dog.

Therapy dogs serve as the perfect stress relievers because of their sweet nature and how gentle they are with humans.

Responsible owners must go through extensive training so that these pets will be great companions for those who could use some cheering up.

Difference between therapy dogs and service dogs

A therapy dog is a type of service animal, but not all service animals are therapy dogs.

One of the biggest differences however, is that service dogs are dedicated to the health and treatment of ONE person, while therapy dogs usually helps others (and often more than one person that is not the owner).

While both types of animals provide support to certain people who have disabilities or special needs, a therapy dog goes into places where the general public gathers.

They usually do not wear vests and can be any breed.

Service dogs on the other hand always wear vests and only provide help to those with disabilities that nobody else can see.

Some of these animals may need specific training before they can use their skills, just like therapy dogs.

See our article on service dogs for a more detailed view of what a service dog is, and the associated training.

Eligibility for therapy dogs

In order to become a therapy dog, there are certain guidelines that need to be met, including:

  • Not being younger than one year of age.
  • Is in good health and up to date on all vaccinations.
  • Willingness to learn and not afraid of loud noises or being handled by strangers.
  • A stable temperament with no history of aggression towards people or other animals. Dogs must be friendly and gentle with children and adults alike!
  • Not possess any fear or mistrust of the water since therapy dogs may have to swim in a pool from time to time for their work.
  • Good physical condition with sufficient stamina for moderate activity level over an extended period of time.

In addition, therapy dogs must be non-aggressive, well-behaved, quiet, housebroken, and able to tolerate various distractions.

Is my dog eligible for therapy dog training?

Your dog should be eligible for therapy dog training if they:

  • Have no history of aggression, be easy to handle, and have a very stable temperament.
  • Are comfortable at potentially being handled by strangers, and not showing any fear or mistrust.
  • Are very loving and empathetic

Certain breeds are better suited for therapy dogs though all breeds can become one if they're properly trained.

Therapy dog training

Training any to become a therapy dog takes time and patience.

The dog needs to learn a variety of skills and commands which will be used in professional settings.

Not only do they need to behave around strangers, they must also get along with other animals and people from all different backgrounds.

Generally speaking, these dogs should demonstrate excellent behavior before being considered in general - see the "Eligibility" section for an idea of what temperament they should have.

Training your own therapy dog

Want to try your hand at training your own dog as a therapy dog?

Teach your dogs some basic commands first.

Once they're comfortable with that, you can work on their interaction with the world. They must not be easily distracted or lose focus!

Thankfully, a therapy dog is mostly based on their temperament, and so basic training for them is relatively easy. However, the downside of self training a therapy dog is that you don't get any certifications.

Which leads us to the next point....

Therapy Dog Schools

For the more advanced stuff for your dogs to learn, it might also be beneficial to send them to a therapy dog school.

These are specialized schools that specifically teach and train a dog in the skillful art of being a therapy dog, and most offer a 'therapy dog certification'.

This means that your dog is certified to be a therapy dog, and can thus begin to serve as one!

Remember, it's important that your dog doesn't have any health issues that may interfere with therapy dog training.

Therapy dog handler

Alternatively, if you've trained your dog to be a therapy dog, you can also learn to become a therapy dog handler and earn a little side income for yourself!

As a therapy dog handler, you will need to provide the animal with extra care and attention – you're not only their owner but also their teacher.

You'll need to be in charge of training them when required, teach them good habits, and keep up with vaccinations so that they can safely go anywhere.

Therapy dogs aren't just for professional settings - they can even visit schools or hospitals!

It's not all about helping either - therapy dogs can net an average salary of about $45,000 annually (source), so you'll be helping others while getting paid!

Therapy dogs in public spaces

Remember that therapy dogs will often need to be in public spaces.

As such, they need to be well-groomed and clean at all times.

A handler must maintain his or her dog's training and skills and must be responsible for teaching the pet good habits.

The owner needs to keep up with their dog's vaccinations so that they can always go on visits without having any concern about their health.

Therapy dogs in schools

Though not all schools have therapy dogs in their buildings, some are allowing animals to visit students at least twice a week to help them feel better both physically and emotionally. [source]

Due to the increase in students with physical or mental disabilities, therapy dogs can be beneficial when it comes to providing comfort and ease for children who may need it.

In short, therapy dogs for children are extremely beneficial, and bring a lot more benefits than downsides.

When bringing therapy pets into school buildings, animal owners must make sure that they keep their pet clean, well-behaved, and up-to-date on vaccinations.

Potential owners must also look into what curriculum standards there are for teaching children about therapy dog safety around pets before getting involved in this type of work.

A good way to get started is by contacting your local schools during the summer so you can go over all of this with them before their school year starts.

Therapy dogs in hospitals

Another popular public space to bring a therapy dog is into hospitals.

These furry friends can provide much-needed relief and comfort to those who are sick or injured.

The dogs bring happiness and joy as well as help reduce anxiety and depression by their owners not having to do anything but love them.

In fact, several key studies have pointed out that having dogs visit patients in their wards have a positive effect in patient recovery! [source]

Potential therapy pet owners should make sure that their dog has passed all necessary training exams before bringing them to the hospital.

They should also be thoroughly cleaned, as the patients can easily fall sick from anything they may bring into the premises.


Therapy dog training is a great way for you and your canine best buddy to provide someone with the love and support that they need.

It doesn't take much to train a therapy dog, and it's definitely rewarding for you and your pet.

If you don't want to self train your dog, then going through the therapy dog training with your dog is also another way of doing things. Plus, certification always helps!

Whether you decide to go on with therapy dog training, or you'd rather have your dog become a therapy dog handler then that's up to you. Just make sure that they're well-groomed and well-behaved at all times – both for the animal's safety as well as other people!

about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.

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