What Is Therapy Dog Training

what is therapy dog training

A therapy dog works to make people happy, but before you can begin taking your pet to see people who might use a smile, you need to put in a lot of work and get certified by a therapy dog program. Therapy dogs brighten people’s days and offer consolation to people in their communities. So, let’s learn more about what is therapy dog training. 

Here’s a breakdown of therapy dog training, the key benefits, and what to keep in mind:

What is a Therapy Dog?

  • Therapy dogs provide comfort and emotional support to people in need.
  • They visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities, offering affection and companionship.
  • Unlike service dogs, they aren’t trained for specific tasks and don’t have the same public access rights.

Benefits of Therapy Dogs

  • Lower Stress and Anxiety: Interacting with therapy dogs can reduce blood pressure and release calming hormones.
  • Improved Mental Health: Therapy dogs help manage symptoms of depression, PTSD, and other conditions.
  • Boosted Social Skills: Especially beneficial for children with autism or social anxieties.
  • Physical Benefits: Petting and interacting with a dog can improve fine motor skills and encourage movement.

Therapy Dog Requirements

  • Friendly and Calm: Dogs must be approachable, non-aggressive, and enjoy human interaction.
  • Healthy and Vaccinated: Therapy dogs work with vulnerable populations, so good health is vital.
  • Basic Obedience: A foundation of good manners is essential for controlled visits.
  • Certification: Most facilities require certification from organizations like the Alliance of Therapy Dogs or Therapy Dogs International.

The Importance of Training

  • Socialization: Exposing your dog to diverse people and environments builds confidence and prevents anxiety in unfamiliar settings.
  • Advanced Obedience: Ensures your dog listens reliably even with distractions.
  • Role-Playing: Practicing real-world scenarios with handling and commands prepares your dog for visits.
  • Certification Testing: Passing a reputable organization’s test proves your dog has the necessary skills and temperament.

Training Options

  • Self-Training: Learn training techniques and practice with your dog. This is suitable for experienced dog owners confident in teaching their own pet.
  • Professional Training: Choose a qualified program specializing in therapy dogs. This can offer more structured guidance and support.

Where Therapy Dogs Work

  • Nursing homes and hospitals
  • Schools and libraries
  • Mental health facilities
  • Airports (for stressed travelers)
  • You can even initiate your own program in your community!

Key Takeaway

Therapy dog work is a fulfilling way to share your dog’s love and bring joy to others. Remember these considerations:

  • Your Dog’s Suitability: Not every dog is cut out to be a therapy dog. Be honest about your dog’s temperament and comfort levels.
  • Your Role: Being a therapy dog handler is equally important. You must be responsible, communicative, and an advocate for your dog.
  • Prioritize Your Dog’s Well-Being: Always put your dog’s comfort first. Don’t force them into situations they find stressful, and take breaks as needed.

If you and your dog have the right temperament and enjoy helping others, therapy dog training can be an immensely rewarding experience!

What is a Therapy Dog Training?

Therapy dogs make people feel better and make their days happier for those they help in their communities. Studies show that pet therapy is helpful. When teams of pet therapists visit individuals going through challenging circumstances, their mental and emotional health improves in a quantifiable and beneficial way. 

Despite their frequent interchange, the phrases “therapy dog” and “service dog” are not the same.

Therapy dogs are trained to visit places such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, treatment centers, and schools, offering humans comfort and affection. 

Although they get basic obedience training, therapy dogs are not taught to carry out any necessary activities for the individuals they assist. The fundamental distinction between therapy dogs and service dogs is this.

They don’t focus on any one area of services in particular. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also restricts therapy dogs’ access to the general public. They are only permitted into spaces that they have been invited to enter. The primary purpose of a therapy dog is to help and soothe others, not only its handler.

Therapy dogs are occasionally used by professionals, such as social workers and psychotherapists, to assist their clients. When trained properly, any breed of dog can serve as a therapy dog.

What Is The Work Of Therapy Dogs?

Therapy dogs offer consolation and company to individuals dealing with various ailments and impairments. These animal companions are frequently asked to offer assistance to people while they are going through difficult circumstances.

A therapy dog is beneficial to many therapeutic programs, including animal-assisted therapy. This could entail engaging in activities with animals that have the potential to improve mood, foster greater social connection, and even lessen anxiety and sadness.

In addition to their therapeutic benefits, therapy dogs are frequently cherished by community members who help individuals of all ages.

What Are The Types Of Therapy Dogs?

Studies have indicated that the use of therapy dogs is beneficial for several mental health issues. It has been seen that patients with dementia, PTSD, depression, and autism all benefit from the encounter. A therapy dog can fill a variety of roles, including the following:

Disaster Relief Dogs:

Disaster relief dogs assist in providing consolation and compassion to individuals who have experienced violence or trauma. In addition, they have assisted in offering comfort to those affected by natural catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks.

Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs:

An additional form of therapy alongside physical and occupational therapies is animal-assisted therapy. It can be used to assist people to manage their condition’s symptoms by easing pain and reducing anxiety.

This type of treatment is based on the tie between humans and animals, which is a peaceful and helpful relationship that can develop when they interact. To illustrate this, a PLOS One study discovered that even a 10-minute visit from a therapy dog reduced pain levels in ER patients.

Reading Therapy Dogs:

These friendly dogs have received specialized training so they can mainly assist kids in improving their reading abilities in schools. When anxious kids read to a dog, they are greeted by a kind and understanding companion that can help them become more confident and self-assured.

Facility Therapy Dogs:

These canines will mostly be employed by facilities such as assisted living facilities. They have received training in caring for senior citizens and improving their spirits.

These patients frequently have mental health issues or may be afflicted with diseases like Alzheimer’s. Seniors who have pets in their lives can benefit greatly emotionally and cognitively from the relationship. These dogs can also assist in settings for education and rehabilitation.

The Common Characteristics that Therapy Dogs Should Have:

While any dog can become an emotional support dog, some requirements must be met before a dog can be called a therapy dog since they work with the public!


The dog’s friendliness is its most noticeable feature. They must think it is more fun to lick than to bite. They must never lose their cool towards people and be comfortable with strangers handling them in all parts of their bodies. Although you can’t always control how other people treat your dog, you still need to be in control of your dog!

Healthy and Vaccinated:

It’s crucial to make sure your dog is well-vaccinated, in good condition, and fixed because they will be meeting people in a variety of unfamiliar settings.


A dog should be happy to explore its surroundings and not get unhappy if it has to leave the house.


The dog has to get along with new people above everything else when it comes to new experiences and odors. A scared dog is a surefire way to end badly. A fearful dog is sometimes mistaken for an aggressive dog by people.


Although the dog will receive therapy dog training, they must exhibit a foundation of discipline, feel at ease accepting orders, and feel like members of the pack. This is related to thinking of yourself as an authority.


While we adore it when our dogs exhibit signs of excitement upon our return, yelping and roaring are inappropriate behaviors for a therapy dog. They should remain calm and silent even if they may be instructed to “speak” on order.

“Understanding the nuances of effective training techniques is essential for any learning process, be it for humans or animals. In the realm of pet care, Dog training particularly vital as it not only shapes obedient behaviour but also fosters a bond between the pet and its owner. Programs like those offered at Brain Training for Dogs provide in-depth insights and practical approaches to dog training. Their methodologies emphasize mental stimulation that goes beyond the basics, ensuring a well-trained and mentally agile pet.”

Which breeds of dogs make the best therapy dogs?

Although therapy dogs can be of any breed or age, not every puppy is suited for this unique role. Generally speaking, the ideal dogs for this function are those who are submissive, serene, gentle, gregarious, and not easily overwhelmed. 

Therapy dogs also need to feel at ease when being touched, often by numerous hands at once.

be it a point to watch your pet’s behavior in a range of situations where they interact with people of all ages as you think about whether they would be a good therapy dog. Even if your pet is well-mannered and sociable, keep an eye out for any signs of stress, such as retreating or unusual panting.

Teamwork is necessary when working with therapy dogs in the community, so it’s just as crucial to make sure you know what to expect as a handler as it is to make sure Fido is capable of handling the job. 

As establishing connections is a crucial aspect of the job, therapy dog handlers can usually count on having a lot of conversations. If the mere mention of a small conversation makes you want to hide and run, you might want to think about finding something else to do with your dog.

What advantages come with training a therapy dog?

Anybody who loves dogs understands how much a dog’s company can brighten one’s day. Becoming a therapy dog trainer turns you and your dog into a team whose primary goal is to uplift and cheer up the community.

Therapy dogs not only offer emotional support to the people they visit, but they also have numerous health benefits. Human interactions with therapy dogs have been demonstrated to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and raise endorphin levels, according to the American Kennel Club.

Furthermore, research indicates that the benefits of therapy dogs outweigh those of other pets in terms of endorphin and oxytocin levels!

How do therapy dogs become certified?

A therapy dog needs to be a year old or older to become certified. Additionally, they need to be recognized and certified by a respectable association like Therapy Dogs International or the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Their immunizations also need to be current.

A dog may also need to complete the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test, a two-part program designed to improve your connection with your dog, to be accepted by certain organizations.

Your dog might also need to meet certain requirements for their collar and leash to pass the certification exam for therapy dogs. If your dog exhibits excessive shyness or barks/jumps, the tester might suggest further training.

From an early age, a therapy dog needs to be properly socialized. As socialization is an essential component of therapy training, you should begin socializing your dog as soon as feasible. This entails regularly introducing your dog to new people and environments while maintaining a calm and polite demeanor, particularly between the ages of 3 and 16 weeks.

Take care not to overburden your dog with attention. It is best to concentrate on building a solid, positive bond with your dog. A good therapy dog should be kind, kind, patient, and self-assured. They ought to have pleasure in interacting with their owner and other individuals.

What to do after therapy dog certification?

To assist your pet feel at ease, you might choose to offer a few house visits to people you know before starting formal visits. In this approach, you may introduce your pet to a wide range of individuals and circumstances and learn how your pet might assist those who require therapeutic support.

While some pets may bring amusement through stunts and a cheerful attitude, others may just love to be touched and loved. Although not required to obtain the Therapy Dog designation, these optional visits are a great way to get experience.

You can start seeing patients with participating organizations as soon as your pet passes the handling exam and gets the all-clear from your certifying organization. Your certifying organization will usually oversee the initial visits. After that, you’ll be allowed to go on your visits.

The AKC certification process for therapy dogs involves 50 visits. Make sure you maintain thorough records of every visit, including staff signatures from all visited institutions, for certification purposes. You can utilize this useful form from the AKC.

A range of classes may be provided by your certifying organization to assist your pet in learning therapeutic skills, and frequent treatment sessions will enable your dog to put these skills into practice.

Many times, all a patient needs is a pet to sit quietly next to them and offer genuine assistance. To provide your pet with a wider variety of experiences and better prepare them than fifty visits to the same place or with the same patients, you should look for a variety of scenarios.

Your pet will probably be accepted into more settings and might even be asked to visit with other therapy dog teams in the area if they have the AKC Therapy Dog Title. If you would like to pursue other titles, you can keep track of visits to obtain Advanced (100 visits), Excellent (200 visits), or Distinguished (400 visits). 

These, however, are completely voluntary and shouldn’t have an impact on your pet’s ability to get therapy.

What is the perfect age to start therapy dog training?

Other than being at least a year old, there are no restrictions on age or breed. So, your puppy has a decent possibility of becoming a therapy dog as long as they are older than a year, regardless of breed.

When they are young, training will not only guarantee good behavior but also make them more at ease with people and other dogs. In this manner, you can ensure that your dog remains robust and healthy by getting any issues corrected. They’ll also need to have the most recent vaccines.

Therapy Dog Training Tips

A few requirements must be met before therapy dogs can start visiting people who could use some canine company. Take into account these five pointers when you train your dog to perform this crucial task:

Get ready at an early age:

Get to work on basic obedience training for your dog even before he turns one year old. Reinforce positive behavior to make it stronger. Get their immunizations up to date. Regularly expose children to amiable strangers. 

Make sure your pet can maneuver around obstacles in your home with skill; this will come in handy when your pet has to get past wheelchairs, medical equipment, and other such objects. 

Before becoming certified, a good therapy dog must demonstrate proficiency in every skill listed on the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, also known as the CGC test.

Assess your pet’s abilities:

Select an accrediting body and begin preparing your dog to fulfill its particular standards. While passing a therapy dog test isn’t the end of the process, it is a prerequisite before you may try to bring your pet along for therapeutic interactions.

Attend training sessions:

If you think you would use a little more assistance, you might want to look into enrolling in some formal therapy dog training programs. 

Obedience exercises such as sitting quietly, walking on a loose leash, behaving politely with strangers, and socializing with other dogs will be ingrained with the assistance of dog trainers. Your pet needs each of these items to become a certified therapy dog eventually.

Pay a visit to those in need:

You can provide your volunteer services as a certified therapy dog owner after a few accompanied visits. 

See where you and your pet partner may spread happiness and optimism to people who are most in need by getting in touch with the hospitals, retirement homes, mental health centers, and community centers in your area. 

Your pet can earn more official AKC therapy dog titles as you accrue more visits.

Take a risk with the company:

To obtain a license to handle therapy dogs, you will need to go to certain locations while your pet and you are being observed. If your dog can recreate every skill that was assessed in an actual situation, someone from the therapy dog organization that conducted your test will confirm this.

How To Train A Therapy Dog

Now that you are aware of the certification process for therapy dogs, let’s talk about training your dog to become a therapy dog. There are two approaches you might take to training a therapy dog. 

A therapy dog can be professionally trained, or you can train it yourself. To help you decide which is the better choice for you, we’ll go over the distinctions between the two below.


Some owners choose to train their dogs alone because hiring a professional therapy dog trainer can be costly. For owners who are more self-assured in their training abilities and do not require expert assistance, self-training is an excellent choice.

Acquiring knowledge of the 10 fundamental commands is a smart starting point if you want to train your dog to train itself. Positive reinforcement techniques are employed in the training of therapy dogs. To better prepare your dog for real-world situations, you may also utilize rules for role-playing.

Professional training

You can register your therapy dog in professional training classes if you’re not convinced you can teach it yourself. By searching for “therapy dog training near me,” you can locate reputable training programs. All that matters is that your dog will receive first-rate training from a trustworthy supplier.

Do your homework on the training organization, study reviews, get advice from facilities that employ therapy dogs and other therapy dog owners, and ask questions before enrolling in any courses. Selecting the ideal training program for your dog is important.

Where can I take my therapy dog?

You will eventually learn where your pet feels most comfortable and where you can have the biggest impact. Nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centers are great places for your therapy dog to find a home. 

Medical institutions are a popular destination for therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are frequently invited to educational events as well. 

Dogs may form amazing connections with children in early reading programs and other educational settings, assisting them in gaining confidence and reaching significant milestones. These days, several airports even provide therapy dog visits.

If there aren’t any chances in your area for therapy dogs, make your own. Administrators should be informed of the advantages of canine therapy, which can help with everything from mental illness to chronic pain. 

For kids who are reticent in social situations, have trouble expressing themselves verbally, or show anxiety readily, dogs make wonderful friends.

Perhaps you’ll be motivated to train other dogs, or you’ll discover that your pet is very remarkable and would make a fantastic service dog. The satisfaction of serving as a therapy team volunteer is unmatched, no matter what. 

You’ll meet people and dogs that will become lifelong companions and provide a much-needed service to the people in your neighborhood. 

Your pet will grow more loving, dependable, and sympathetic as you build a stronger bond with them. When you and your therapy dog share your strength and dedication with the world, there is more than enough love to go around.


It’s a fine ambition, but most people want their dogs to be therapy dogs so they can help other people. To make sure that the dog has a good experience when they are introduced to new things, some people forget that they need to always serve as their advocate.

Never push your dog to do anything against their will, and always be respectful of their responses to new experiences. Instead, encourage your dog to try new things.

“Understanding the nuances of effective training techniques is essential for any learning process, be it for humans or animals. In the realm of pet care, Dog Training (Course) is particularly vital as it not only shapes obedient behavior but also fosters a bond between the pet and its owner. It offers an extensive course that is cost-effective, with the entire course priced at just the equivalent of what a dog trainer might charge for a single hour ($40 to $120). It covers a wide array of behaviours including Potty Training, Lunging, Jumping, Digging, Whining, Chewing, Excessive Barking, Impulse Control, Hyperactivity, Ignoring Commands, and much more. Plus, they provide a 100% money-back guarantee if you cancel within 60 days, ensuring that your investment is risk-free.”

Aapt Dubey
Aapt Dubey

Aapt Dubey, a devoted canine enthusiast and experienced dog Owner, brings boundless passion to our team. With a heart full of love for our four-legged friends, Aapt is dedicated to sharing insights on dog care, behavior, and training to make every pup's life happier and healthier at ItsAboutDog.com.

Know More

Recommended For You