Making Your Dog a Therapy Dog: What to Know

Have you dreamed of making your dog into a therapy dog? Therapy dogs provide love and comfort to the elderly and sick in hospitals, nursing homes and residences around the world. These dogs are not classified as service dogs by the ADA because they don’t perform a specific task or collection of tasks, but they provide a very valuable service to many with their love. If you want to make your dog into a therapy dog, you may wonder how to get started.

There are two types of canines under the “therapy dog” umbrella, but the most common ones are the therapeutic visitation dogs, dogs that pets who visit with a handler, their owner, to nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities. The other type of therapy dog is an Animal

Assisted Therapy dog, and these dogs are used for helping individuals in their recovery, and are often in rehabilitation facilities. Last but not least are the Facility Therapy Dogs, which are dogs that stay at nursing homes, living with the staff specifically to help with the residents with memory problems. You’re likely wanting to have your dog visit with the local hospital, so that’s the type of dog we’ll discuss today.

Characteristics of a Good Therapy Dog

The primary function of a therapy dog is to provide comfort and companionship for those the canine visits. This means therapy dogs need to be friendly and comfortable with strangers of all types, and can remain calm even in crowds. Your dog must also be comfortable with children or adults. You’ll need to ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re dog is a good candidate.

Focus – Can they concentrate on your commands? Are they frightened by sudden and loud noises?

Training – Do they know how to perform simple commands? Do they know not to jump up on strangers, bed and do other unpleasant habits?

Personality – Is your dog laidback, and gets along with other breeds?

Friendliness – Can your dog stand to be groomed or pet by a stranger?

If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then your dog may be a good therapy dog. Your dog must also be a low-shed breed and be sociable, which explains why Retrievers are the most common therapy dog breeds. It isn’t enough that your dog is a good therapy dog candidate, because you must also be a good candidate, as you and your dog will work as a team. Most therapy dog groups, such as those listed with the AKC, will have their own requirements for you as handler. 


How Your Dog Can Become Certified as a Therapy Dog

There are hundreds of websites out there that explain how you can pay and get your dog certified, but you are best going to groups recognized by the AKC, health organizations, and authority websites such as the Humane Society. At these websites is where you’ll find the most accurate information. You can also contact your local healthcare agency and find out if there’s a therapy dog service in your area, as many of these groups work carefully with health officials in therapy dog programs. The list provided above by the AKC contains groups all over the country, and if you’re on the East Coast, the Good Dog Foundation is a great place to start. This nationally-recognized group certifies therapy dog teams with comprehensive programs to ensure a good match for the handler, the dog, and the facility. Avoid going to websites that state you only need to send documentation and a payment for registering your dog, as this may not be enough. Once you and your dog are ready to become your therapy dog training, know that both of you are providing an amazing service that touches lives every time you walk through the door. 


  1. Dog Lover

    Very good information here.

  2. AnonyDog

    Gotta be familiar with these and don’t just go online and get a certificate

  3. Yellow Lab

    I love the idea of being a therapy dog – or of my DOG being one, LOL! I think she might make a great companion for nursing home visits.

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