What Do You Need to Know to Begin Therapy Dog Training?

Pet Training


March 3, 2020

It can generally go without saying that many, many people love their dogs. Some dogs might be fine with just lazing around at home and not doing much more than occasionally going outside.

Other dogs, however, truly enjoy having some degree of work to do. Some of these dogs prefer being outside, herding animals, and helping on a farm. Other dogs enjoy helping people in particular, whether that is through being a service dog or through being a therapy dog.

If you want to volunteer your dog and help bring joy and happiness to people who might not have the most exciting time, such as people at the hospital, young schoolchildren, and senior homes, you might want to consider getting your dog certified as a therapy dog.

This will, of course, involve getting the necessary therapy dog training done as well.

What Is Therapy Dog Training, and What Should You Know Beforehand?

As you begin to think about how you can start training your dog to become a therapy dog, there are a few different things that you will need to think about beforehand.

For instance, you need to consider the age of your dog, its temperament, what breed your dog is, and where you are going to want to volunteer. You might not realize it at first, but these are important things that you are going to want to think about when you are planning to get your dog into therapy.

As for what the therapy itself entails, it will generally involve a considerable amount of training to ensure that the dog will be well-mannered, well-behaved, and calm while it is interacting with people. This is different than a service dog, who requires very specific training with the person that it will be assisting.

Therapy dog training is much more easily accessible, less expensive, and something that just about every dog with the right temperament can pull off. Getting your dog licensed as a therapy dog also doesn’t cost that much money. The most you would have to do is register your dog formally, such as with the American Kennel Club (AKC).

You should also have an idea of where you are going to want to take your therapy dog to volunteer at. You could choose to visit seniors who are in Assisted Living programs, or you could choose to visit people in schools. Some people choose to take their dog to hospitals to visit both adults and children alike.

The most important distinction to make is whether the people you are seeing are going to be of sound mind and able to treat animals right. For example, younger school children might poke and prod at the dog, which could make the dog less than pleasant.

A therapy dog has to know how to tolerate that kind of behavior, or at the most, know how to peacefully disengage from the situation. This is part of the training that you will have to go through when you are getting your dog registered. With that being said, it is generally best that your dog is a calmer breed that has the temperament to withstand a little bit of mistreatment from children who might be well-meaning, but don’t quite know their way around animals yet.

A Therapy Dog Versus a Service Dog

While the two might sound similar in nature, they are absolutely not the same. To put things simply, a service dog is a dog that is trained to work specifically with their owner and accommodate that owner’s specific needs.

This means that the training is going to be very particular, and that it will be unique per dog. There are very strict guidelines on which dogs can be service dogs, based on the fact that these dogs will do things such as open a fridge. Getting a dog certified as a service dog is a long and arduous procedure that should not be taken lightly.

On the other hand, there are therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are brought by owners who want to volunteer the emotional support that a dog can bring to people who might not have any other form of support, such as children in hospitals or seniors in assisted living situations.

There are very few requirements aside from several behavioral requirements that a therapy dog needs to have, so the breeds can range wildly. Getting a dog certified as a therapy dog is something that anyone who has the dedication and commitment to do can do, given enough time to get the training done. Therapy dogs do not have the same privileges as service dogs do, as they are volunteers, rather than working dogs.

Understanding the difference is crucial to finding the right certification and treatment that your dog needs.

Deciding If Your Dog Is Right to Become a Therapy Dog

Now that you have decided that you want your dog to become a therapy dog that you volunteer in various places around your community, you need to think about whether or not your dog is the right kind of dog to become a therapy dog.

After all, some dogs, particularly ones with an aggressive temperament, are not well-suited to being dogs that help bring emotional support to people both young and old.

Because there aren’t necessarily any breed or age restrictions, determining if your dog is right to become a therapy dog comes down to its obedience and its temperament.

Ultimately, you are going to want to make sure that your dog is patient with things such as being pet the wrong way, being poked and prodded, and anything else that you can fathom a young child doing. This also means that your dog can tolerate strange noises as well, as you never know what your dog might hear when you are out for a session.

Most places will not consider giving any certification to dogs that are under one year of age, no matter how well behaved that dog might be. This is one of the few restrictions that applies to all dogs, regardless of size, breed, and temperament.

As long as your dog is older than a year old, you can consider it to be eligible to become a therapy dog, assuming that it has had all of the proper training. Otherwise, you are going to have to wait until your dog becomes old enough to be a therapy dog.

As for elderly dogs, while they are not barred from becoming a therapy dog, you will want to make sure that being potentially poked and prodded will not cause additional aches and pains.

You will also want to make sure your dog is obedient to the highest degree. In a sense, your dog will have to be able to drop something and sit back down as soon as the command is called. This is a must for any therapy dog. If you are unsure about whether or not you can train your dog that efficiently, there are always going to be private training courses that you can consider.

In many ways, having an obedient dog is going to be just as important as making sure your dog has a warm social temperament and is good around children.

Training Your Dog: Private Versus Personal Training

As you can imagine, there is going to be a fair amount of training that goes into making sure that your dog is able to become a therapy dog. This might lead you to wonder which choice is better: personally training your dog to understand commands, or getting a private trainer to take care of your dog for you. Barring the idea of budgeting and pricing, both of these options are good for you, and you should take the time to consider the pros and cons of each one.

Private training is generally going to be more comprehensive, done by trained professionals, and is more vigorous at teaching your dog what it needs to know. While this might seem perfect at first, the one thing that you need to be wary of is the price.

For everything that privately training your dog can offer, it is often extremely expensive. Depending on the trainer that you are planning to see, you might also have to take time out of your day to take your dog to and from the trainer. You will have to determine if the price is worth the hassle of doing this, in return for a dog that can obey just about any simple command that you give it.

On the other hand, you can consider going entirely with personal training. Personal training, in this case, involves you training your dog as you otherwise would. This includes training your dog to listen to basic commands, making sure that your dog is obedient, and so on.

Personal training is incredibly flexible in timing, as it is done entirely on your own time. It is also considerably less expensive than private training, although you won’t get the same degree of certified trainer expertise, as you will be the one training the dog.


Many people who are serious about wanting to make sure that they get their dog the training that it needs, will consider a combination of the two, assuming that your budget allows it. The biggest factor in this is going to be your budget, as this will determine whether or not considering a private trainer is even an option for your dog.

With enough time and dedication, you can rest assured knowing that your dog will soon become a therapy dog that can help everyone out.