How to Register Your Pooch as a Therapy Dog


Have you ever thought that your dog would be a great therapy dog? Maybe you would love to enhance the lives of folks at a local nursing home, but you have no idea where to start. Here’s how to register your pooch as a therapy dog, as well as what steps you need to take to ensure that he or she is properly trained.

What Therapy Dogs Do

Therapy dogs visit places like hospitals, schools, and nursing homes with their handlers to help enhance the lives of people going through a difficult time. A therapy dog might be a friend to a lonely elderly person or cheer up a terminally ill patient. They provide a calming influence for people suffering from depression or anxiety, or sometimes they simply provide a bit of entertainment or companionship.

The Difference Between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs

There’s a huge difference between a therapy dog and a service dog. Service dogs live with the people they’re trained to help and they provide highly specialized assistance, such as assisting someone with a disability. Service dogs are highly trained to perform their duties, and by law, they are permitted to go wherever their owners go, even on airplanes or in a restaurant. On the other hand, therapy dogs may be granted special access to facilities they’re invited to visit, they are not legally entitled to unrestricted access the way service dogs are.

How Therapy Dogs Are Trained

Because a therapy dog’s jog is simply to comfort or entertain those who need it, their training isn’t nearly as extensive as a service dog’s training. However, they must be well trained in basic obedience, extremely well socialized, and able to get along well with people they don’t know. The AKC offers a Good Citizen test that may be required by some therapy dog organizations. Sometimes, therapy dogs also receive special training to desensitize them, so they don’t become stressed out in noisy or chaotic situations. Some therapy dog organizations offer training courses, but in most cases, the dog’s handler will need to provide training themselves.

Additional Requirements for Therapy Dogs

Any dog can become a therapy dog, as long as he’s at least a year old. Of course, the dog must also be confident, friendly, well-mannered, and not aggressive, fearful, or hyperactive. The handler and dog must show that they work well together. Therapy dog organizations may also have certain health requirements you will need to meet:

  • Veterinary checkups every 12 months
  • Current vaccinations and stool exam
  • Negative heartworm test or be on heartworm preventative

How to Register Your Dog as a Therapy Dog

Once your dog has mastered the above skills, he must be registered as a therapy dog before you can volunteer his services. The therapy dog organization will match the two of you up with facilities looking for volunteers. You can find a listing of organizations on the American Kennel Club’s website. The organization will require that he goes through an evaluation in person to be registered, and other qualifications may be required depending on the organization.

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