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How Can My Dog Become a Therapy Dog?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Feb 17, 2024
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If you think that your dog might be a suitable therapy dog, there are a few things to consider and then a few steps to take before the dog actually can become a therapy dog. Be aware that not every dog can work as a therapy dog; if you have doubts about your dog's personality or suitability, consider some different ways to offer community service or spend quality time with your dog. It is also important to recognize that every therapy dog needs a handler, and if you want your dog to do therapy work, you need to be prepared to commit.

The first thing you should do is determine whether or not you want to become a therapy dog handler, whether or not you have a dog. Start by finding and talking with therapy dog organizations, and visiting the facilities that they serve on your own. If you feel uncomfortable, this type of service might not be well suited to you. You might also want to visit with a therapy dog and his or her experienced handler, to see what it's actually like to work with a therapy dog.

You may be better off making your dog an emotional support animal instead. While a therapy dog is trained to provide therapeutic service, an emotional support dog can be any well-behaved dog and is not classified as a service animal. In terms of how to make your dog an emotional support dog, the process is relatively simple. You will need to consult a licensed mental health professional and see if they think a dog is beneficial to your mental wellness.

If you are still interested in working with a therapy dog, think about your temperament and the temperament of your dog. You should be relaxed and outgoing with strangers, for example, and your dog should be amenable to petting and distracting environments. If you don't have a dog, spend time volunteering with a therapy dog organization to get familiar with the work and the traits of dogs that tend to do well.

Once you have acquired a dog or established that your dog is suitable to become a therapy dog, you need to submit to training. Training for therapy dogs accustoms them to clumsy handling, hectic environments, and a wide range of people. A good therapy dog is patient and calm with everybody, as is its handler. After training, your dog will be tested to ensure that he or she can handle real-world situations which might arise before he or she can become a therapy dog. Testing is often modeled after the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Test.

Working with a therapy dog can be very rewarding, but it also requires a time commitment. A therapy dog organization will often pay for training, but in return they expect a minimum time commitment. Plan on serving for at least a year, so that the therapy dog organization can consider their investment in you worthwhile.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon336167 — On May 26, 2013

I would like my male peke to become a therapeutic dog so he can help kids learn how to read in schools. I have one school that is interested in my dog. What do I need to do and where do I go? I live in Oklahoma.

By anon261151 — On Apr 14, 2012

I want to know if my dog is suited for therapy. How do I do that?

By anon185928 — On Jun 13, 2011

anon140835: yes as long as you aren't near other animals, though it may be harder to find a group you could join. maybe you could start your own.

Also, i have a dog who loves people and is extremely tolerant with little kids, but doesn't listen well to vocal commands. he will only do a trick such as sit if i have a treat. would his lack of listening skills be a problem?

By anon140835 — On Jan 08, 2011

What if my dog is good with adults and kids (and their way of handling a dog, friendly, and playful), but she does not like to get to close to other dogs and she doesn't like other animals? Can my dog be a therapy dog?

By icecream17 — On Jul 24, 2010

Cafe41- I agree with you. Here in Florida, we have another pet therapy program in which dogs are brought into libraries to hear children read.

Since children are often self-conscious when they are beginning to learn to read, they often relax in front of the dog. The dog just has to sit and listen and the children become excited to read to the dog.

By cafe41 — On Jul 24, 2010

Mutsy- That is so nice. I think that pet therapy dogs really help people. Many dogs are used in hospital rooms as a form of therapy for elderly patients.

It is a well-known fact that petting an animal really lowers ones blood pressure and actually enhances one’s quality of life.

This is why dogs are so important to seniors because many times their medical conditions often

lead to depression. It is nice to know that dogs can make such a positive difference.

By mutsy — On Jul 24, 2010

Loved the article- I just want to say that there is an organization in Oregon called Dogs for the Deaf that actually trains dogs to work with people that are deaf.

They rescue homeless dogs and after the service dogs are trained they are given homes with these deaf people.

They end of helping deaf people with their daily activities. The dog and the new owners are so happy to have each other that it is a true win-win situation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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