What is a Therapy Dog?
Therapy dogs provide affection, comfort, support, and friendship to people in retirement homes, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, rehab facilities, and stressful situations, such as disaster scenes. These dogs can improve socialization, communication, and reading skills in individuals. In situations where humans cannot keep a pet, it gives them an opportunity to spend time with a friendly, affectionate dog. Because of the many benefits, there is a great demand for therapy dogs; and it is a wonderful way to volunteer for you and your dog.
A Therapy Dog is Not a Service Dog
Service dogs perform tasks to assist people who have a disability, and these dogs require extensive training. Because of the nature of their work, service dogs are allowed into buildings where other dogs cannot enter. Therapy dogs do not have federally granted legal access to public transportation, airplane cabins, or public buildings as is afforded service dogs.
The Right Stuff
A therapy dog should be even-tempered and enjoy being petted and handled by people. The dog should be able to calmly accept unusual and new circumstances, as well as different sights, sounds and places.
Getting Started With Your Dog
To become a therapy dog, it is important that the dog be able to respond to basic obedience cues and have the temperament to succeed when visiting in therapeutic environments. Basic obedience cues include sit, down, heel on a loose leash, leave it, and stay. A great place to start this training is to take your dog to an AKC Canine Good Citizen class. Many therapy dog organizations require a CGC as a prerequisite to therapy dog training.
Many training schools also offer therapy dog classes that prepare owners and dogs for the many situations they might encounter while volunteering.
There are many AKC-recognized therapy dog organizations, and they all have specific requirements for certification.
It is good to think ahead about what type of facilities you would like to visit with your therapy dog. Some organizations, such as hospitals, have their own requirements pertaining to a therapy dog’s training. Most organizations will not evaluate or allow a dog to visit before one year of age. Some require a class, and if not required, usually a therapy dog class is highly recommended.
AKC Therapy Dog Titles
AKC recognizes therapy dogs and their handlers for their volunteer efforts with five titles. Titles can be earned by keeping a record of therapy dog visits and levels range from AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN) for 10 visits to AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD) for 400 visits. All dogs are eligible to earn AKC Therapy Dog titles, including purebred and mixed breeds. The dog must be registered or listed with AKC to earn the titles.
Learn more about the AKC Therapy Dog Program
Elizabeth Sandling is a professional dog trainer and member of the AKC GoodDog! Helpline team. The Helpline is a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by trainers who can answer your training and behavioral questions. For more information about the service and enrolling: https://www.akc.org/products-services/akc-gooddog-helpline/