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Can I Train my Dog to be a Therapy Dog?

Can I train my dog to be a therapy dog?

Last Updated on July 23, 2023


If you’ve ever witnessed the heartwarming effect of a therapy dog on people, you may have wondered if your furry companion could provide the same comfort and support. Unlike service dogs or emotional support animals, therapy dogs are specially trained to bring joy, comfort, and emotional relief to various needy individuals.

Therapy dogs are known for their incredible ability to boost morale and brighten the lives of those they interact with. They visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other settings, offering affection and companionship to patients, residents, and students alike.

Training your dog to become a therapy dog can be a rewarding experience for you and your canine friend. Beyond the positive impact they bring to others, therapy dogs also enjoy numerous benefits, including increased socialization, mental stimulation, and strengthened bonds with their handler.

In this blog, we will explore the importance of therapy dog training and the basic obedience requirements a dog should master to become a therapy dog. Whether you own a purebred or a mixed breed, a successful therapy dog may pass the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test, proving that any dog may have the potential to be a therapy dog. So, let’s embark on this journey of discovering how to train your dog to be a therapy dog and make a difference in the lives of others.

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Types of Therapy Dogs 

There are several types of therapy dogs, each serving different purposes in the field of animal-assisted therapy. Their unique abilities and roles make them valuable assets in various settings, providing comfort and emotional support to those in need. Let’s explore the three primary types of therapy dogs: 

1. Animal-Assisted Therapy Dogs:

These therapy dogs work alongside healthcare professionals to assist in structured treatment plans. Animal-assisted therapy utilizes the presence of a dog to achieve specific therapeutic goals, such as improving physical, emotional, cognitive, or social functions in patients. These dogs often visit hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and counseling offices, where they actively participate in therapy sessions. To become a therapy dog for these purposes, the dog must undergo specialized training and earn therapy dog certification to ensure they can handle various medical environments and support patients effectively.

2. Visiting Therapy Dogs:

Visiting therapy dogs, also known as therapy dogs for emotional support, are perhaps the most common type. These dogs, accompanied by certified handlers, visit various locations such as care homes, schools, libraries, and community centers. Their main objective is to bring joy and companionship to individuals in these settings. They do not engage in structured therapy sessions but rather provide comfort through their presence and interactions. To become a visiting therapy dog, the dog should be friendly, well-socialized, and certified by a recognized therapy dog organization.

3. Facility Therapy Dogs:

Facility therapy dogs are often found in specific establishments like hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and care facilities. They work in these locations as part of a permanent therapy team, providing ongoing support to residents or patients. These dogs are typically certified therapy dogs and have undergone extensive training to work effectively in the unique environment of their designated facility. Their presence has improved the overall atmosphere and morale of the facility’s residents, creating a positive and comforting environment.

Comfort animals bring immense benefits to the individuals they interact with. Whether it’s helping patients recover faster, offering emotional support to those facing challenging circumstances, or brightening the day of someone in need, therapy dogs play an invaluable role in society. With proper training and certification, any well-behaved and friendly dog can become a mental health support dog and make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Training your dog to be a therapy dog

Training your dog to become a mental health support dog involves a series of essential steps that ensure they are well-prepared and capable of providing comfort and support in various therapy settings. This process typically includes basic obedience training, socialization training, therapy-specific training, and obtaining certification.

1. Basic Obedience Training:

Before pursuing therapy dog certification, your dog must undergo basic orderliness training. This fundamental training instills crucial commands like sit, stay, come, and heel. A therapy dog must be well-behaved, obedient, and responsive to its handler’s commands, ensuring it can remain calm and controlled in different environments.

2. Socialization Training:

Socialization is key to preparing your dog for therapy work. Exposure to diverse people, places, and situations helps your dog adapt and remain at ease during therapy visits. Positive interactions with strangers, other dogs, and various stimuli create a confident and friendly mental health support dogs, capable of providing comfort to those they encounter.

3. Therapy-Specific Training:

Therapy-specific training focuses on honing the skills necessary for successful therapy visits. Dogs must learn to remain calm and gentle even in emotionally charged situations. They are trained to approach individuals politely and engage in comforting interactions without being overly reactive or aggressive.

4. Certification Process:

To become a certified therapy dog team, you and your dog should meet specific requirements set by recognized therapy dog organizations. Each organization may have slightly different criteria, but common requirements include a minimum age for the dog (usually at least one-year-old), completed basic obedience training, and successful completion of a therapy dog training program. Additionally, some organizations may require passing the AKC Canine Good Citizen test, which assesses a dog’s temperament and orderliness skills.

During the certification process, both you (the handler) and your dog will be evaluated to ensure you work well together as a cohesive team. This evaluation helps determine if your dog has the right temperament and training to engage in therapy work effectively.

It’s important to note that mental health support dogs are not service dogs, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While therapy dogs provide comfort and support in various settings, they do not have the same legal rights and access privileges as service dogs.

Registering with a national therapy dog organization is usually required for therapy dog teams. These organizations may offer ongoing support, resources, and opportunities to participate in therapy visits in schools, hospitals, care homes, and other places where therapy dogs bring comfort and joy to those in need.

With dedication and appropriate training, any dog can become an excellent mental health support dog. If you think your dog would thrive in a therapy setting and provide comfort to others, consider pursuing therapy dog certification through a reputable therapy dog organization. Your certified mental health support dog can then make a positive impact and brighten the lives of countless individuals through the power of animal-assisted therapy.

Benefits of Therapy Dogs

The presence of therapy dogs has proven to offer a multitude of benefits, enriching the lives of individuals in diverse ways. From physical improvements to mental and emotional support, as well as fostering social connections, they play a vital role in enhancing overall well-being.

1. Physical Benefits:

The physical advantages of therapy dogs are notable. Interacting with these gentle canines can lead to reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels. The act of petting a therapy dog can trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and relaxation, promoting a sense of calmness and comfort. Therapy dog programs often involve activities like walking and playing with the dogs, encouraging increased physical activity and mobility for individuals with limited mobility. Furthermore, the mere presence in healthcare settings has been linked to improved pain management and faster recovery rates.

2. Mental and Emotional Benefits:

Therapy dogs are exceptional at providing mental and emotional support. For individuals experiencing anxiety, depression, or loneliness, interacting with these furry companions can have a profoundly positive impact. They are trained to be attentive listeners, providing a non-judgmental and empathetic presence during therapy sessions or emotional support visits. This bond with the mental health support dog can boost self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of purpose, particularly for those going through challenging circumstances.

3. Social Benefits:

Therapy dogs also play a vital role in fostering social connections. For individuals who may find it challenging to initiate social interactions or form connections, mental health support dogs serve as an icebreaker, encouraging conversations and interactions with others. This is especially evident in places like care homes, schools, and hospitals, where they facilitate communication between residents, students, and patients. As therapy dog handlers accompany their well-behaved dogs, it creates an opportunity for meaningful human-to-human interactions as well.

The benefits extend to various settings, such as schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and even workplaces. Their presence can improve the overall atmosphere, creating a calming and uplifting environment for everyone involved.

To ensure that therapy dogs are well-suited for their roles, they must undergo proper training and certification. Therapy dog training programs focus on equipping dogs with the right training to be gentle, patient, and responsive to the needs of those they interact with. Additionally, mental health support dog handlers’ receive training to advocate for the dog and handle various situations effectively.

It’s essential to recognize that therapy dogs are not service dogs. While service dogs undergo specific training to assist individuals with disabilities, therapy dogs provide support and comfort to a broader range of people. Many different breeds can become therapy dog candidates, and with the right training and certification, any well-behaved dog can make a great therapy companion.

The presence of mental health support dogs can have a profound positive impact on physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Their ability to offer comfort, support, and companionship makes them invaluable assets in various settings. If you want a dog that brings joy and helps improve the lives of others, choosing to train and certify your dog as a therapy dog can be a rewarding and meaningful endeavor.


In conclusion, the blog “Can I Train My Dog to Be a Therapy Dog?” highlights the remarkable benefits mental health support dogs bring to individuals in need. The positive impact on physical, mental, and emotional well-being makes them invaluable assets in various settings. If you seek to make a difference in the lives of others and create a deeper bond with your furry companion, consider training your dog to be a therapy dog. 

The journey of becoming a certified therapy dog team can be immensely rewarding for both you and your canine friend. For further information and guidance on pursuing certification, explore reputable organizations and training programs. Together, you and your dog can bring comfort, joy, and healing to those who need it most.

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