Should Your Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock / Getty Images

In our last blog post we talked about the difference between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and Emotional Support dogs. In this segment we are going to talk more about Therapy Dogs – the pros and cons of certification, and whether or not your dog should be a therapy dog.

Therapy dogs are not registered service dogs, and do not enjoy the same benefits on a personal level of helping their handlers but rather are trained and used to help others in a variety of situation. Therapy dog’s may be found in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice situations, schools, disaster areas – just about anywhere comfort is needed. Recently you may have seen a picture of the therapy dogs greeting the survivors in the wake of the Parkland, FL school shooting.


Does My Dog Have the Ability to Become a Therapy Dog?

It takes a certain dog to really be a therapy dog.

We all think our dogs are the sweetest angels on the planet, but when it comes to control and personality there are several things to consider and weigh when deciding whether or not to pursue therapy dog activities.

Therapy dogs typically have gentle, friendly, confident dispositions. They are tolerant, and well behaved in a variety of situations. They don’t startle, and they do not exhibit behaviors such as jumping, nipping, or shying away from touch. Their primary purpose is to make contact in therapeutic situations. To this end they must be comfortable with strangers, clumsy petting, and responsive to commands given by their handlers/owners.

A Lu's Lab Alumni, Svamal Machang, who has taken his Lu's Lab Ollie through the PAL's Program (See below) Says, "I think it comes down to trusting and knowing your dog. Is this something they would enjoy, and do you know your dog well enough to gauge how they’ll react in unpredictable situations."

Is There Required Training?

There are a variety of organizations out there that “certify” dogs as therapy dogs. For the most part, there is no set training program that is required. Nor a set of standards by which a dog must be trained before being certified. However, the best certification agencies do require dog and handler to go through a rigorous test of temperament and behavior. 

"Turns out, there’s no legal definition or status called therapy dog," says Machang, "It’s mostly about being under the umbrella of a group that can take care of the paperwork and insurance."

What kind of Registration is Required?

Well this is where it gets tricky. There are lots of organizations out there that offer “Certification” from websites to actual training facilities. Some don’t require any training at all, you just have to pay your fee. It’s important that if you want to take this on and really have your dog become a therapy dog, that you research reputable programs and make sure your dog has the temperament and manners to behave in a variety of situations.

Of the program Machang went through, he says, "You basically need to show that both you and the dog are friendly, communicate well and get along with other dogs and people."

What are Some Resources to Start?

Therapy Dog’s United – A non-profit with its own certification and testing program as well as connections to a network of facilities that utilize volunteer certified therapy dogs.

AKC Therapy Dog Program – Both purebreds and mix breeds can go through AKC certification programs. This is mainly a title and recognition program for a dog that is already performing visits on site with an agency.

Therapy Dogs International – Founded in 1976 this is a volunteer organization dedicated to regulating, testing, and registering therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers.

Local Resources

Alliance of Therapy Dogs -  This used to be called Therapy Dogs, Inc., or TD Inc.  Lu’s Labs, head of training Linda Deam, did Pet Therapy through this group with two of her dogs several years ago.  The dogs were tested prior to being accepted into the TD Inc. program.  She worked with a local group and they followed a strict set of rules.  TD Inc. set the rules and everyone paid a yearly fee to join.  TD Inc. provided insurance as well.

PAL -  This is the local group some of our Lu’s Labs alumni, including Machang have used. PAL’s certification process is 3 steps, one orientation and two on site evaluations, there is a $100 application fee.

Pet Partners - This is another well-known therapy dog program that is worth checking into.

Ultimately this is an activity that can bring dog owners (Handlers) and their dogs together in a rewarding activity. "Seeing the joy in children’s faces as they read to Ollie, and how they persevere through their difficulties to read to him. There’s no fear of judgement, just a kid reading to a dog," Says Machang.