Hero Dogs 101: The Essential Therapy Dog Requirements

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: September 16, 2021


What are the therapy dog requirements that you need to know about to turn your awesome pup into a superhero pup? A therapy dog works with a dog handler. This is almost always the dog’s owner. Do you think that you and your doggo have what it takes to become a therapy team?

Read on to find out more about training, therapy dog certification requirements and more. Perhaps your emotional support animal has what it takes to be a therapy dog too!


Therapy Dog Job Description: What Do They Do?

Therapy pets give comfort and affection to people who are sick, disabled or in a crisis. They go with their handlers to volunteer at places such as hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. Therapy animals and their owners work as a team to improve the lives of other people. This can be by working with a young child who is learning to read. Or it can be to provide comfort and companionship to the sick or elderly.

Is your pet already a source of comfort to you? A companion that eases stress, anxiety and/or depression? Why not make it official and get an emotional support animal (ESA) letter? There are several benefits to having an ESA letter for your canine companion.

Could you benefit from having a dog or cat that can help you with an emotional or mental disability? Take the Certapet 5-min pre-screening to see whether you might qualify for your very own emotional support animal!

Dog Therapy? Canine Interactions Have a Truly Therapeutic Impact!

There is a wealth of scientific evidence presenting the therapeutic benefits of interactions with animals. Playing with a dog can increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine (happy hormones) in the body. This leads to relaxation, better sleep and an all-around healthier you!!

Studies have shown that changes in the body, such as a lowering of heart rate and a decrease in blood pressure, occur when people touch dogs.

The goals of a pet therapy program can include:

  • Improving motor skills and joint mobility.
  • Improving gross motor and/or fine motor movement.
  • Progress self-esteem by increasing verbal communication and developing social skills.
  • Increasing eagerness to partake in activities.
  • Improving willingness to exercise.

What is the Difference Between ESAs, Service, and Therapy Animals?

The main difference between these three kinds of assistance animals lies in their training and the laws that protect them. While emotional support animals need very little training, therapy animals and service animals do require specified training.

Therapy dogs do require some schooling before they can be certified. Yet, this is not as intensive and extensive as the preparation that service dogs undergo. Service dogs are trained to carry out specific day-to-day tasks for their owners. For example, a guide dog will assist an individual who is visually impaired with getting around town.

ESAs and service animals are both labeled as assistance animals. With thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), this denotes them certain privileges.

1. Because of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), most airlines will allow you to travel with your ESA or service dog with you in the airplane cabin free of charge.

2. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it possible for your ESA or service dog to live with you even if you are living in a no-pet building or complex.

therapy dogs requirements

The 6 Essential Therapy Dog Requirements of These Canine Heroes

A therapy dog can be just about any dog, but there are some therapy dog requirements! The perfect therapy pet is well-trained, well-socialized and genuinely loves people.

If you would like to give your doggo the opportunity to live its heroic life, the following is a check-list of therapy dog requirements.

  1. The most important aspect of a good therapy dog is its temperament. An ideal therapy dog is calm, friendly and happy to be handled by many different people.
  2. Therapy dogs must meet certain health requirements. The minimum is for your pup to be up-to-date with its vaccinations. Regular heartworm and flea prevention treatments are also essential. As is a clean bill of health from a veterinarian.
  3. Training. It is imperative that you and your dog go through a therapy dog training course. A great way to begin training a therapy dog, or any dog, is with the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program (CGC). CGC test certification is a prerequisite for many therapy dog programs
  4. Size doesn’t matter. They can be small enough to fit into someone’s lap, e.g. a French Bulldog or a Pug. Or they can be large enough to rest their soft head on the side of a bed or a knee, like a Saint Bernard or German Shepherd.
  5. Although there are no specific therapy dog breeds, some breeds of dogs are more suited to therapy work than others. For example; Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Poodles, Pomeranians, Beagles, and Greyhounds. Mixed breeds also make for fantastic therapy dogs. They are usually calm and gentle and have a deep understanding of people’s suffering.
  6. Age. To become a certified therapy dog, your pooch must be at least one year old. It’s never too early to start towards meeting those therapy dog requirements though!


Emotional Support Animals Make Some of the Best Therapy Dogs!

Your emotional support dog is already a form of therapy for you! Do you want to share the love, and help your super pup give more of their good vibes to those in need? Volunteering as a therapy team would be a very rewarding activity for both of you!

Emotional support dogs already know how to give great cuddles. They are fabulous at just sitting there with you and hearing about all your troubles. They know when to rest a comforting chin in your lap to check in with you and make sure that you are OK.

Unlike with ESAs, Therapy Dog Training is a Must!

Beyond basic obedience, emotional support dogs do not need any specialist training. Therapy dogs do. The training that a therapy animal will do depends on the therapy dog organization with which you get certification. There are several different ways of schooling therapy dogs. Different organizations will put the focus on different skills.

Once you have done your training and received your therapy dog certification, you are ready to start doing animal therapy visits!

The American Kennel Club (AKC) has an awesome Therapy Dog Program. This is to recognize the pawsome work that therapy pups and their dog owners do out in the world. Dogs are awarded AKC therapy dog titles according to the number of visits that they have performed.

The Two Main Animal Therapy Categories

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) makes use of certified therapy animals as part of a therapeutic treatment plan. On the other hand, animal-assisted activities therapy (AAAT) involves the use of animals in recreational and visitation programs to assist individuals or groups of people with special needs. Both AAT and AAAT make use of animals such as horses, dogs, cats, birds, and pigs.

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)

The primary goal of AAT is to improve a patient’s social, mental, emotional or physical functioning. Therapy with animals can assist those suffering from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and addiction.

Interactions with the dog, or other therapy animals, are part of a treatment plan designed by a healthcare practitioner. For example, grooming a dog or a horse can encourage repetitive hand-eye coordination exercises. The deep tissue pressure of having a dog sit in your lap or rest its head against you can diffuse anxiety or stress.

requirements for therapy dogs

Animal Assisted Activities Therapy (AAAT)

For animal-assisted activities therapy, there is no formal treatment plan. A trained professional is not required to oversee the process. AAAT is simply a case of a therapy animal team going to visit people in need of animal companionship for whatever reason, i.e. loneliness, illness, or disability.

How to Certify a Therapy Dog: The Process is Different to That of ESAs!

ESA and therapy dog requirements are different in a few respects. One of the most important is that of certification. Emotional support animals are not certified. Any website that advertises to certify your ESA is most likely fraudulent.

To enjoy the conveniences of having an ESA, you must have an ESA letter. This is a letter given by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP). The letter states that you have a mental or emotional disability and need the comfort of your pet as part of your treatment.

To certify a therapy dog, you need to undergo training and testing. There are a few different organizations that offer training and/or testing. Two internationally recognized animal-assisted therapy groups are Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International.

There will be local groups too. You can do a bit of research to find one that suits you and your pooch the best. Some groups only offer registration of a therapy dog, while others offer courses and subsequent dog evaluations and therapy dog certification.

Either way, you will have to undergo some form of testing before you and your furry friend can be certified as an animal therapy team. The important thing is that your dog meets the therapy dog requirements and can be trusted in public places!

therapy dog vest

A Therapy Dog Vest is the Super Hero Cape of the Dog World!

Once you and your hound have received your therapy team certification, you are ready to go out and do your first visit! It is not a legal requirement for your therapy pup to wear a vest. However, it is a good idea. Identifying your pet as a therapy animal will make it easier for others to understand why your pet can accompany you to places and into buildings which are traditionally pet-free.

Dogs are very good at picking up on patterns and making associations. Putting on a special vest every time that you go and do a visit is a nice way of letting your dog know what is about to happen. Let your therapy pup wear their vest with pride!

If your dog meets the therapy dog requirements, there is no reason for them not to go out and spread love and joy to the community! To ensure that your doggo can always be with you, take the first step in getting an ESA letter by taking CertaPet’s free online pre-screening!

Common Questions About Requirements of a Therapy Dog

Which breed of dogs are best suited to be therapy dogs?

What training does a therapy dog need?

Does a certified therapy dog need to wear a vest?

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