Does Your Dog Meet The Therapy Dog Requirements?

Have you wanted to do more with your dog but are not sure what? Maybe you’re wondering about giving back in some way. I thought the same thing. Actually, I adopted my dog, Henry with this intent. So, what are the therapy dog requirements and what does your dog need to do in order to become one? Heck, what is a therapy dog anyhow? Today, let’s dig into the world of therapy dogs and find out if it’s something you want to explore with your dog.

*Updated: February 21, 2023

a german shepherd is in training to find out if he can meet the therapy dog requirements
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Budget Tip: 

You may be surprised to know how much not only your dog learns and grows as your progress through therapy lessons, but you and your dog do together. Even if you don't become a therapy team, the lessons you gain and the bonds you strengthen with your dog are priceless. Additionally, if you take lessons through a big company, like Petsmart or PetCo, you'll be able to use coupons. Or you may even be able to find online therapy classes at a great price. It's a win for you and your dog, regardless of the outcome. And it's a great activity to save or account for in your dog budget.

What exactly is a therapy dog? 

A therapy dog provides comfort and love to people for various reasons. Generally, put the person is undergoing some sort of stressful situation. This could be learning to read, medical treatments, testifying in court, or even end-of-life transition.  A therapy dog can visit a person in a number of different places, including hospitals, schools, airports, and rehabilitation centers.

What isn’t a therapy dog?

While therapy dogs are pretty amazing with the comfort they provide, they shouldn’t be confused with service dogs. To be clear service dogs are specially trained to help people with certain needs, like a seeing-eye dog. Additionally, therapy dogs are not emotional support animals.

What are the benefits of a therapy dog?

  1. Reduce stress
  2. Increases self-esteem
  3. Decreases blood pressure and heart rate
  4. Increases oxytocin
  5. Increases endorphins

Additionally, studies show that therapy dogs get as much benefit from their work as they give with increased oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) and endorphins (the body’s natural pain reliever).

How do I make my dog a therapy dog?

When I was looking to adopt my dog, Henry, I was specific about getting a dog that could be a therapy dog for kids and go into hospitals or rehabilitation centers. After I had him for a while, I expanded this to include other facilities such as libraries and schools. 

Nevertheless, I learned exactly what to look for and what steps to take once I selected my candidate therapy dog. 

These were my goals for Henry. It was part of my dog search criteria. You may have different goals.

This article discusses how to set your own dog goals. 

How to train your dog to be a therapy dog?

This can vary a bit depending on the therapy dog program you want to join. Alliance of therapy dogs is one of the biggest organizations.  However, most programs will have a prerequisite of the Canine Good Citizen award. This is an AKC program involving an evaluation of 10 obedience commands. Additionally, the handler is generally required to subscribe to the AKC Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge, which generally states the dog owner will take good care of their dog’s health, safety, and respect others’ rights. 

What’s involved in the Canine Good Citizen award

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger
  2. Sitting politely for petting
  3. Appearance and grooming
  4. Walking on a loose leash
  5. Walking through a crowd
  6. Sit, down, stay on command
  7. Come when called
  8. Reactions to other dogs (really you want little to no reactions)
  9. Reaction to distractions (the dog can show a natural interest, but shouldn’t be scared, panic, bark, shy away, or show aggression)
  10. Supervised separation (this is only a three-minute separation and the dog must stay positive and not be going into panic mode when separated from its handler)

There are many dog training classes that offer “therapy” classes. These prepare the dog and handler for what they may encounter. Once you have completed these classes you’ll want to have your dog and you certified as a therapy team. 

Henry meet the meet the therapy dog requirements and passed all the classes
The day Henry passed therapy dog training.

Henry enjoyed all his therapy classes and passed all his tests with flying colors. Yep, I’m a proud dog mom. Who wouldn’t be proud of their pup?

What are the requirements for a therapy dog?

Basically, a therapy dog should be:

  • Calm
  • Friendly
  • Affectionate including toward strangers
  • Well-mannered and trained in all basic commands
  • Easy going with odd places, noises, smells, equipment, uniforms, etc.
  • Healthy
  • Vaccinated
  • Well-groomed (most therapy organizations will require the dog to be bathed at least the day prior to a visit)

Are there certain breeds of dogs that are best for therapy dogs?

Nope. Any dog could be a good candidate – rescue, full breed, any breed, mixed breed. It really doesn’t matter as long as the dog meets the requirements discussed above. However, there is an age restriction. Most therapy dog organizations require the dog to be at least one year of age.

How to get a dog registered as a therapy dog?

So, you’ve gone through all the obedience and therapy classes and you want to get you and your dog certified and registered. Now what? You’ll need to find a therapy organization that will do the certification. These are done in person and usually in a group of other dogs. 

Often your therapy dog trainer will provide a list of local observers for the certification. During this part, an observer or TO will monitor you and your dog at a facility (this could be a library, hospice, hospital, etc.) for three and as many as 10 visits.

The observer will be watching for and monitoring to see how you work as a team. Additionally, the TO will watch for

  • Friendlessness with strangers
  • How well do your dog and you follow directions
  • Overall manners (that’s for both dog and partner)

Once you and your dog have successfully completed all your required monitor visits, then you will be a certified therapy team!

This is the last step I have not taken with Henry. As time has gone on, he has gotten more excited with people and anything he thinks might play with him. So, instead of stressing myself out, and in turn him, I decided perhaps “King Henry” is not meant for therapy. He’s just my therapy dog. 

Once certified where can you and your dog volunteer your services?

  • Libraries
  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Hospice Units
  • Schools
  • Veteran Organizations
  • Emergency Shelters
  • Disasters
  • Airports
  • Courtrooms

Basically, you can go where ever you are asked or have permission. 

Note: Shortly after I rescued Henry, I got a call from a friend who’s mom was in an Alzheimer’s facility. She wanted me to bring Henry to the facility. I explained Henry wasn’t trained. She encouraged me to call the facility and talk with them. I did and Henry made his first non-official therapy visit. He did a superb job! He was well mannered, calm, and respectful of everyone. I couldn’t have been more proud of my little pup. 

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Summary of does your dog meet the therapy dog requirements?

The process of taking your dog from a loving family dog to a therapy dog is a journey of self-discovery. What you think may happen, might surprise you in the end. However, if you are able to get to the finish line of being a therapy dog team, it’s undoubtedly a rewarding one. Henry and I got a taste of it and it was very gratifying. If you’ve been thinking of how you or your dog can help others in a bigger way, then I encourage you to explore the realm of becoming a therapy dog team. 

an aussie shepherp is in training to learn if she can meet the therapy dog requirements

Have you ever thought about turning your dog into a therapy dog? Do you think your dog can meet the therapy dog requirements? 

About Terri Rodefer

Terri Rodefer is the founder of Tail Wag Wisdom, a blog focused on affordable pet care. She likes to say helping pet parents afford and love their animals even more, makes her tail wag. As a lifelong lover of all animals with a background in economics, biology, and marketing, allows Terri to bring a unique spin to pet care. 

14 thoughts on “Does Your Dog Meet The Therapy Dog Requirements?”

    • I understand your reluctance to step out of the shadows. I can be an introvert too. Actually, an introvert mode is my comfort mode. I often say that Henry is the social butterfly in our relationship. A great part of being a therapy dog team is just that you’re a team. The focus is generally on your dog. You are there to support your dog, be the handler, and often be the bridge between the person you are visiting and your dog. For instance, you can assess the person and determine that your dog will need to go to one side to be petted or around equipment, or what have the situation dictates. You truly become a team. However, the human does not take the main stage. Your dog has the spotlight. Plus, when you’re going through therapy classes with your dog, you’ll quickly learn how to let your dog be helpful without overstepping while you are in the background. I hope this helps you better understand the therapy dog world. Trust me, if I could do it, you can too, even as an introvert. 😉💖🐶

  1. Excellent summary of therapy dog requirements. Icy, my Husky & I have been a Pet Partners therapy dog team since 2012. I always say it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. If Henry is too excitable now, perhaps when he’s older it will be a better fit. I commend you for recognizing that it isn’t the right fit now, and not trying to force it. Therapy dogs really do make a difference for people.

    • That’s so wonderful you and Icy are a therapy dog team. On occasion, I still wonder if there’s a possibility for Henry and me to be a team. But, then I realize he’s everyone’s therapy dog on a different level. It’s not what I had envisioned. But apparently, it’s what someone else had planned. Since he’s a rescue, I’m not exactly sure how old Henry is but his excitement level doesn’t seem to be lessening. He seems to be my forever 2-year-old furkid, at least for certain things.

      Thank you for sharing your experience with being a therapy dog team with Icy. Give Icy a pet for Henry and me. 😊💖🐶

  2. I work in a school and had wishes of making my current dog a therapy dog. She is one year old now, but I am still working on her jumping on people. I guess if I can’t get that behaviour in check, she may never be a therapy dog. like you said, she will be my therapy dog – and my neighbours – she borrows her all the time to hang out!

    • One-year-old can still be young for some dogs. Don’t give up yet. Give her time. She may overcome her jumping issue as long as you continue to work with her. Either way, it’s good you are recognizing her limits.

      Henry would love for you to give her a pet for him. 🐶💖😉

  3. Great information! There was a time I think my papillon, Kitsune, would have made an amazing therapy dog. But he’s 13 now and, although he’s very friendly and well behaved, there are things that make him anxious now that didn’t used to bother him when he was younger. I’d also worry a lot about people being too rough with him and hurting him by accident now that he’s a senior. My younger dog, Fenrir, has never been very comfortable around strangers so he’s not therapy dog material either. They’ll both forever be my own personal therapy dogs, though! 🙂

    • That’s good you’re recognizing the limitations with Kitsune and Fenrir. It can be rough on both dogs and handlers when those limitations aren’t seen. You are absolutely right. Both will continue to be your therapy dogs, which is sometimes the best and sometimes exactly what they were destined to do.

      Give both Kitsune and Fenrir pets for Henry and me. 🐶💖😊

  4. Layla is my emotional support dog, she has been since I rescued her and without her my life would be miserable. She is registered with Animal Control in San Francisco and has the tag to prove it.

    • Awe, Layla is very special. You two are definitely meant for each other. I’m so glad you found each other and your life isn’t miserable.

      Hugs to you and pets to Layla 😊💖🐶

  5. We used to have therapy dogs come during final exam week at my college. I cannot tell you how nice it was to de-stress with a dog between exams. ❤️

    • Oh my! That must’ve been amazing! I wish my college would’ve done that. Finals were always so stressful. What a great idea!

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I love it! 💖

  6. I think all dogs are therapy dogs in their way. However, it is different when you want strangers to benefit. My dog is very friendly, kind, and sweet, but despite her age still quite high-strung, so she’d likely not make it.

    • It’s always good to realize your dog’s limitations. It sounds like you have done this. But it’s also good that you realize your dog is most definitely your therapy dog in her own way. Which is perfect! Thanks for sharing.

      Give your sweet dog a pet for Henry and me. 😊💖🐶


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