101 Course on How to Make Your Dog a Therapy Dog

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Have you ever been to visit someone in a hospital or been standing in line to drop your bag at the airport, when suddenly you find yourself face-to-face with a dog whose job it is to cuddle? Therapy dogs are amazing canine citizens that are taken to places where people might need a little extra love and support. The best news? Your pet dog could become a therapy dog too! Let’s take a deeper look at how to make your dog a therapy dog.

Let Others Benefit from Your Pup’s Support: How to Make Your Dog a Therapy Dog

If you’re wondering how to make your dog a therapy dog, you’ve come to the right place. The most important step to making your dog a therapy dog is to join an established therapy dog organization. In doing so, you’ll get access to:

  1. Advice and testing by professionals with lots of experience working with therapy dogs
  2. Tried and tested training techniques, giving you reassurance and reliability
  3. Legal protection if something should go wrong thanks to comprehensive insurance cover
  4. A network of other volunteers for additional advice and support.

The Big Difference between Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Before we go over how to make your dog a therapy dog, let’s start with some definitions. The main difference between an emotional support animal (ESA) and a therapy dog is that while therapy dogs help lots of people, sometimes even all at the same time, an emotional support animal is dedicated to helping just one person: its owner.

Due to this distinction, ESAs are classed as assistance animals and enjoy certain legal protections like being allowed to live in no-pet rented accommodation or travel in the cabin of a no-pets commercial flight. Therapy dogs are not, and these legal protections do not apply to them.

However, an ESA can be trained to become a therapy dog in addition. Indeed, many ESAs make wonderful therapy dogs thanks to their ability to help people and make them feel better.

Is Service Dog Certification the Same? The Short Answer…No!

Just as therapy dogs and emotional support animals are not the same, these two are both different again from service animals. Service animals must be specially trained to help people with disabilities by carrying out a specific task like guiding people with visual impairments, sensing oncoming seizures, or assisting people in wheelchairs with mobility-related tasks.

There is no official registry of service dogs, and there is no official certification scheme. While some service-dog training organizations have their own specific tests that a dog must pass before it is designated as a service dog, these are by no means universal.

If you see websites offering to register or certify your pet as a service dog—or an ESA for that matter—give them a wide berth, as they are at best a waste of money and time, and at worst damaging to people who rely on their assistance animals.

Is Therapy Dog Certification Hard? 5 Steps You Need to Follow to get Certified

  1. Most therapy dogs are organized and assigned through therapy dog organizations. If you think your pup has got what it takes to become a therapy dog, find a local therapy dog organization, or get in touch with a national one to see if they operate in your area. Try Therapy Dogs International, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, or Pet Partners.
  2. Each therapy dog organization will have its own process for certifying therapy dogs. Most will begin with an initial assessment to see if your dog has the right kind of temperament, even if it’s lacking in training. See below for a list of traits a good therapy dog should have.
  3. Next comes training! While therapy dogs, unlike service dogs, don’t need to be trained to carry out specific tasks, they do need to know basic commands like “sit”, “lie down”, “stay”, “wait”, “come”, “visit”, and so on. They also need to be perfectly house trained!
  4. When your dog is suitably trained, most therapy dog organizations will have a test that it will need to pass in order to become certified. These tests are designed to see how the dog will cope in a number of situations, for example around people using medical equipment like wheelchairs.
  5. Once your dog passes the test and is certified as a therapy dog by the organization you’re working with, they will put you in contact with local organizations like schools and hospitals that have requested therapy dog visits.

Preparing Your Dog to Wear that Therapy Dog Vest requires Plenty of Training!

Training is key for therapy dogs! Not only must they have a good temperament, even in unfamiliar circumstances, but they must also be under their handler’s control at all times, even when off the leash.

Although different therapy dog organizations have different training criteria, a good starting point for wannabe therapy dogs is the American Kennel Club (AKC)’s Canine Good Citizen Certificate, which is seen as the “gold standard” for behavioral training. Some therapy dog organizations even require all dogs to have passed the Canine Good Citizen test before they begin!

The AKC Registration for Therapy Dogs

The AKC does not certify therapy dogs, leaving this task up to specialist therapy dog organizations. However, they do run a program called the AKC Therapy dog, which recognizes therapy dogs and their owners for their time and hard work.

To earn the AKC Therapy Dog title, the therapy dog must be registered with the AKC and with an AKC-approved therapy dog organization. They must have completed a certain number of visits. The titles start at Novice, with 10 visits, and go all the way up to Distinguished, with 400 visits.

How to Make your Dog a Therapy Dog…Follow this Therapy Dog Requirements Checklist!

If you’re still wondering how to make your dog a therapy dog, we’ve got a handy checklist of all the traits a good therapy dog should have for you here:

  • Temperament: therapy dogs should be naturally calm, friendly, and relaxed around people from all walks of life, as well as other animals. They should never, ever show signs of aggression, even when startled.
  • Good health and general hygiene: therapy dogs go into lots of different places and meet lots of different people, and as such, they should always be up-to-date with all their shots. They should also be clean and groomed—never smelly or dirty!
  • Obedience: Therapy dogs should always be under the close control of their handler, even if they’re off the leash. They need to be able to respond quickly and calmly to instructions, even around distractions.

Help Those Going Through Ruff Times: Your Doggo Could Be the Cure

That just about covers everything you need to know about how to make your dog a therapy dog. If you think your pooch has got what it takes, the most important step is to become certified as a therapy dog and handler team with a therapy dog organization. Soon, you’ll be on your way to helping many, many people!

Common Questions on How to Make Your Dog a Therapy Dog?

What is a therapy dog?

Can my dog be a therapy dog?

What do therapy dogs do?

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