Pet therapy uses animals to help people recover from or cope with health problems. These health problems can also include mental health disorders. Dog therapy is a form of pet therapy that uses dogs for this purpose. Being a therapy dog is not a job of a specific breed. The most important factor that will decide if a dog can become a therapy dog is temperament. Therapy dogs have to be well socialized and must enjoy being handled by people of all ages.

A therapy dog is not a service dog. Although therapy dogs receive training, they have a completely different job. Therapy dogs provide psychological and physiological therapy to people other than their owners. Service dogs perform specific tasks to help someone with a disability. Unlike therapy dogs, service dogs stay with the person they help. They also have special access privileges in public places.


What do therapy dogs do?

A therapy dog works together with its owner by going to schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Their job is to improve the lives of other people while working together as a team. They can work with a wide variety of people, from children to seniors in assisted living. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs need to interact with others while on duty. A therapy dog’s job can go from giving disabled children the confidence to read out loud to reducing pain and anxiety in adults with health problems. 

Can my dog become a therapy dog?

The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. As long as your pooch is well socialized with people, there’s a good chance you have a future therapy dog in your hands. Anyone can train a therapy dog, however, there are some standards that you’ll need to meet in order for your dog to get certified. Therapy dogs are usually handled by their owners. But it can also be a trained professional handling them.

If you have a young pup and you want to increase its chances of becoming a therapy dog, work on socialization. Your dog needs to be properly socialized to become a therapy dog. You’ll need to expose your dog to as many new people as possible while creating a positive experience for it.

To have a healthy working relationship, you’ll also need to work on obedience training. You can either do this by yourself at home or with the help of a dog trainer. The ultimate goal is to build an effective communication method between you two.


How can my dog be a certified therapy dog?

So you’ve been working on getting your puppy socialized and have been training it at home. Now you want to get your dog certified as a therapy dog. At the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, your dog needs to be at least one year old to go through the certification process.

If your dog is one year old or older, you can request an observer in your area to test you and your dog. At this stage, the observer will test your dog’s basic good manners, behaviors, and handling skills.

The next step is for an observer to supervise you and your dog during three visits with residents of medical facilities. After three successful visits and submitting your application paperwork, your dog is well on its way to become a therapy dog.

After getting the certification, you can start visiting patients. However, your certifying organization will supervise the first few visits. After some supervised visits will you have the permission to make independent visits.

You can also choose to offer a few home visits to people you know before starting with official visits. That way your dog can start to get comfortable with the job. With practice, you’ll start to realize where your dog feels more at home and where it’ll make the biggest difference.

Making sense of it all

Although therapy dogs also require certification they are not service dogs. This means they don’t have the same access privileges and it’s unethical to try to pass a therapy dog as a service dog.

If you have a social pooch, you can work towards getting a therapy dog certification. That way you can make a difference in the lives of people in need. If you want to learn more about how your dog can become a therapy dog, visit the Alliance of Therapy Dogs’ website.