The Ins and Outs of Therapy Dog Certification

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therapy dog certification jack russell holding diploma

Have you got an especially friendly, gentle, and responsive dog that may be suited to being a therapy dog? Or perhaps you’re thinking about adopting a pooch as your own individual emotional support animal to help you in your life first and foremost. Perhaps, later on, when all is going well, they can share their love and special qualities with others? If so, here’s the lowdown on what’s involved with therapy dog certification.


Some of the Best Therapy Dogs are Also Emotional Support Animals!

The temperament and qualities needed in a dog for therapy dog visits are pretty much the same as what people look for in an emotional support animal. These are characteristics such as being quiet, patient, loving, friendly, calm, and affectionate. And, of course, being sensitive and attentive to people, and having basic good manners!

To get an ESA letter is a simple process. Certapet offers a free online pre-screening. This short set of questions will take you around 5 minutes. You receive a quick answer as to whether your health condition may qualify you for an ESA.

If you do, and you decide to proceed, we will then put you in touch with a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) in your State. The full process to issue an ESA letter confirming your eligibility takes about 48 hours.

A Look at what Dog Therapy Entails

So, what is dog therapy? It is when a specially trained dog works with a handler to help people with their health in some way. Therapy dogs can help people in a number of ways.

They help in terms of comfort, affection, alleviating symptoms, and gaining confidence. They also help with developing skills, and physical exercise or mobility. Then, of course, there are the immense benefits of spending time with another living being that does not pass judgment! It’s all about unconditional love!

You may find therapy dogs and their handlers at work in public settings. Places like schools, hospitals, care facilities, rehabilitation centers, prisons, workplaces, and airports are likely places to see therapy dogs at work. Even disaster areas are finding benefits in bringing in therapy animals to help people cope.

The activities that may be done with therapy dogs are many. These include being able to cuddle and stroke the dog, or going for a walk. Playing with a therapy dog can help motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Reading to the therapy dog (or therapy cat) helps with literacy skills. Speaking basic commands to a therapy dog can help with speech therapy. Or just spending some quality time and having the company of a therapy dog for a short period is therapy in itself.

Dog therapy falls into two categories – Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) an Animal Assisted Activities Therapy (AAAT). The training for each is a little different for both the dog and the dog handler. The variances are in who they may be working with, and where.

woman and dog taking part in animal assisted therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy

Animal Assisted Therapy can be a component of a specific treatment plan for a person. The goal with AAT is to help people with their rehabilitation or recovery in aspects of their physical or mental health.

It’s not just a dog’s world either! Although dogs are probably the most common! Therapists and health professionals may also include AAT with cats, horses, guinea pigs, rabbits and other types of animals.


Animal Assisted Activities Therapy

Animal Assisted Activities Therapy is usually more related to group settings where many people may benefit from the visit. The intent of AAAT is to help people with recreation, education, sociability, and stressful situations.

As with AAT, dogs and their handler are often involved in animal-assisted activities. However, other animals do their rounds in the care of people – and do great work too!

Understanding the Difference Between ESAs, Service, and Therapy Animals

Emotional support animals, service animals, and therapy animals – three important types of assistance animals! All three play a part in helping people with their lives! However, there are differences that everyone should know!

The variances between the three types are in the training they receive, and the people they help. Legally, the type of animal also affects where you can have them, especially in public situations.

Emotional Support Animals

  • Emotional Support Animals provide comfort and emotional support, and a sense of happiness and wellbeing. ESAs help people with an emotional or psychological disability or mental illness. A qualified health professional must assess a person’s condition and whether having an ESA will help the person to manage their illness.
  • Emotional support animals do not receive any specific training related to their role. Nor is the animal itself certified. But that is not to say they don’t receive any training at all! Emotional support animal training for dogs should include at least basic obedience training. In other words, the type of doggie good manners you would be training a dog to have to live with you in your home!
  • Under aviation legislation and housing laws, people with ESAs have some protection. These relate to having an ESA fly with you and live in rental accommodation. In other public places, the rules of the organization of individual establishment apply as to whether they allow pets and animals.

Therapy Animals

  • Therapy animals help many people in different settings. They may be brought into places where people are recovering from illness or are rehabilitating. They may help people in a stressful situation, or those who receive care, to help them with daily living.
  • Therapy animals, in particular dogs, do need training and assessment with a certifying organization. This is to make sure they are suitable to help people in a range of settings. A good certification benchmark is the AKC Therapy dog title. Organizations who offer these programs are recognized by the American Kennel Club.
  • Therapy animals may be taken, by invitation and prior arrangement into public places. At other times, an individual organization’s policies on animals and pets apply.

animal assisted activities therapy golden retriever visiting young girl in hospital

Service Animals

  • Service animals assist people with specific tasks. The tasks they perform relate to the person’s physical or psychiatric disability. A guide dog may be the “eyes” for someone visually impaired. Or, a hearing dog will be an extra set of ears for a person with a hearing impairment. Psychiatric service dogs and help people to recognize harmful symptoms.
  • Service animals receive extensive formal training to meet the standards of care needed. They are then matched with a person. Service animals are usually dogs. However, miniature horses are also trained to help people with mobility!
  • Service animals are allowed in public settings and establishments. This is because of the vital assistance they provide to their owners for specific tasks.

Unlike with ESAs, Therapy Dogs Can Benefit from Certification or Registration!

The certification and registration of a therapy dog show the credibility and ability of the dog, and their handler.

Imagine you are thinking about inviting a therapy dog into your facility or location for a visit. You want to know that you can rely on the therapy team (the dog and their handler) and that they have the qualities they say they do!

Assessment by Professionals

Therapy dog certification involves an assessment by experts in the dog therapy and dog handling world. The evaluation will involve observing the dog’s behavior in different situations with you as their handler. They will also observe how your dog interacts with other people.

Consistency in Training

When you have consistency in training any dog, you get some reliability and reassurance in terms of expected behavior. Dog therapy certifying organizations ensure the dogs they endorse have received consistent training.

Many follow the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program. This involves things like:

  • The dog’s training to follow standard commands.
  • How they react when meeting and being petted (sometimes not too gently) by friendly strangers.
  • What they are like walking on a loose leash and in a crowd.
  • How they react to distractions and other animals.
  • What they are like when separated for short periods from their handler.

Networking with Other Volunteers

Belonging to a certifying dog therapy organization is a great way to meet, and work with like-minded people and volunteers. Many organizations have coordinated programs for therapy dog visits. Working with an organization and other volunteers is also a great source of support and advice.

Legal Protection in Case of an Incident

Having liability insurance is important when you are out on volunteer visits with a therapy dog. Luckily dog therapy organizations have comprehensive cover in case there is an incident or accident during a visit.

dog therapy group of therapy dogs on a bridge with children

If Your Dog Meets the Therapy Dog Requirements: Train Them Up to Be a Hero in Your Community!

Share the love! Do you have a super special dog that is great with people? Consider training with them to be a therapy dog team together!

Your emotional support dog should be calm when they are out and about, and responsive to your instruction. A certified therapy dog and their handler can give a lot of support and assistance to people in their community.

If your dog has what it takes, why not start the process of getting their ESA letter today? Take the simple pre-screening and get ready to travel and live with your furever friend!

Common Questions on Therapy Dog Certification

What are the benefits of therapy dog certification?

What is the difference between AAT and AAAT therapy dogs?

Can an emotional support animal be a therapy animal too?

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