Therapy Dogs International: Training Therapy Dogs to Succeed

By: Kathryn Anderson Updated: September 13, 2021


Have you ever gone into a school, nursing home, or hospital, and found yourself face-to-face with a furry staff member? If so, chances are you’ve met a therapy dog!  Therapy Dogs International is one of America’s leading trainers and certifiers of therapy dogs, active in all 50 states. Read on to learn more about Therapy Dogs International, plus how to certify your own dog as a therapy dog!


What is Therapy Dogs International?

Therapy Dogs International is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization that is dedicated to registering, testing and regulating therapy dogs and their handlers. Therapy Dogs International teams visit people in lots of places, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and more. TDI was founded in New Jersey in 1976 and is now considered one of the largest and most well-respected therapy dog charities in the USA.

Battling Depression & Anxiety with An emotional support animal by Your Side!

Therapy dogs have an important job to do, and that is helping people. However, therapy dogs are not the only kinds of dogs that can help people—far from it!

Emotional support dogs also help people who are dealing with emotional conditions or mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. These amazing animals provide a source of love, calmness, and affection, helping people to cope with the symptoms of their condition and break negative thought patterns.

Therapy Dogs Vs Emotional Support Animals!

So what’s the difference between therapy dogs and emotional support animals? Well, firstly, a therapy dog can help multiple people, sometimes even at the same time! An emotional support animal, meanwhile, is dedicated to helping one person all the time.

The second difference between the two is that while ESAs help people with a diagnosed mental health condition, and must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional, a therapy dog can help anyone, whether or not they have a diagnosed mental health condition. Some therapy dogs visit people who are sick in the hospital, or even get read to by school kids to build their confidence.

Another important difference between therapy dogs and ESAs is how they are recognized by the law. While ESA owners get special protections that allow them to have their animals with them in rented accommodation and on airplanes, these laws do not cover therapy dogs.

therapy dogs international about

TDI Programs

Therapy Dogs International has a range of programs that place therapy dogs in a range of facilities. Here are a selection of TDI programs:

  • Assisted Living Facilities
  • Tail Waggin’ Tutors (where children read to dogs)
  • Disaster Stress Relief Dogs
  • Home Visits (helping to maintain independent living)
  • Hospice Visits
  • Hospital Visits (both general and children’s)
  • Library Visits
  • Nursing Home Visits
  • School Visits
  • Shelter Visits (abuse survivors)
  • The Final Visit (in funeral homes to aid the grieving process)

Can Any Dog Become a Therapy Pooch? Therapy Dog International Testing Requirements

To be registered as a therapy dog with TDI, a dog must be at least one year old and have a calm, friendly nature. The dog must be tested by a certified TDI evaluator, who will carry out a temperament evaluation. Therapy dogs with TDI must also be healthy and have a continually updated health record form that is signed by a veterinarian, as well as all full vaccinations. Service dogs (such as guide dogs) cannot become therapy dogs with TDI. Finally, all TDI therapy dogs must be completely housebroken.

Therapy Dog International Test

The Therapy Dogs International test is designed to assess how a potential therapy dog will behave in lots of different situations, including around people using all sorts of medical equipment, like wheelchairs and crutches. It also is a chance to assess the dog’s overall temperament, like whether it will willingly go up to new people, or whether it will bark or cower when nervous. The test mainly focuses on temperament rather than obedience, but the handler should still be able to show that the dog is under their control at all times.

It’s All About Following the AKC Canine Good Citizen Standard

The American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program aims to reward responsible owners and well-behaved dogs. The CGC trains and tests dogs to behave well in public, and also teaches owners good pet etiquette. A CGC certificate is a pre-requisite for many therapy dog programs, as well as other places like homeowners associations. TDI does not require that dogs have a CGC certificate; however, all therapy dogs must be able to follow their handler’s commands.

Upcoming tests for TDI

To find an upcoming test at Therapy Dog International, check their website. You can also search for an evaluator near you, and contact them directly for more information on upcoming tests.

Get Approved For Good Behavior: Therapy Dog Training Near Me

If there is not a certified TDI evaluator in your area (within a 4-hour drive), fear not, as you and your pup can still apply for limited registration with Therapy Dogs International. To do this, you must provide an admin fee of $10, plus the following information:

1) A certificate showing that the dog has graduated from a training school with basic and intermediate obedience, plus a letter from the school confirming the dog’s good temperament.

2) A letter of recommendation signed by a veterinarian

3) A letter or letters of recommendation from the places you wish to visit with your dog. These letters should be on letter-headed paper and state that they would welcome visits from your dog.

4) Health certificates and vaccination information provided by a veterinarian.

What is the Alliance of Therapy Dogs? How they Differ From Therapy Dog International

Alliance of Therapy Dogs is another nationwide charity that trains and certifies therapy dogs. Similarly to Therapy Dogs International, ATD has its own criteria for health, temperament, and behavior of potential therapy dogs. ATD also sends out therapy dogs to a wide range of institutions and centers.

The differences between TDI and ATD lie in how they train and test the dogs, and the training they provide to handlers, though there are a lot of overlaps. Another difference is that you can support ATD by becoming a member even if you don’t have a dog! You’ll receive a handbook and a bi-annual magazine that keeps you up to date on the latest news from ATD, and you’ll know that your contribution will go towards training more therapy dogs.

How to Get a Therapy Dog

If you think your dog would make the perfect therapy dog, the first step is to get in contact with Therapy Dogs International or another therapy dog charity and get a full list of their specific criteria. When you decide which one to join, you’ll need to pay your membership fees and pass the relevant tests. All new members of TDI will receive a comprehensive training guide and accompanying DVD, which gives details of how your dog should behave. You will also be provided with a list of nearby facilities that have requested therapy dog visits.

therapy dogs international organization

Therapy Dogs International Locations

Therapy Dogs International is based in Flanders, New Jersey. There are almost 25,000 registered dog and handler teams registered across all 50 states, as well as in Canada.

Therapy Dogs International Phone Number

The phone number for Therapy Dogs International is (973) 252-9800, or you can contact them by email at

Animal Allies: Adopt a Dog to be Your Next Therapy Dog!

While some dogs are trained from puppyhood to become therapy dogs, many of the best therapy dogs at TDI start life on the street or in animal shelters. Shelters across the USA are full of healthy, friendly, loving dogs with lots to give that would make excellent therapy dogs. If you’re planning to get a dog to train up as a therapy dog, consider visiting an animal shelter and discussing your needs with the staff at the shelter, who will be able to advise on temperament and personality.

AKC Dog Lookup: 10 Dog Breeds that are Part of the Therapy Dogs International Club

Therapy Dogs International will register any breed of dog to be a therapy dog. Some are pure-breed dogs, while others are mixed breeds or mutts. Here are some popular breeds that are registered with Therapy Dogs International:

  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. Border Collie
  3. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  4. Greyhound
  5. Golder Retriever
  6. Poodle
  7. Labradoodle
  8. Lurcher
  9. Australian Shepherd
  10. Border Terrier

Before You Join TDI, Here are 4 Facts You Need to Know

  1. The cost of membership at Therapy Dog International is $45 for the first year, and $30 each year after that to renew. If you have more than one dog, it’s just $10 for each additional dog to join, and $5 for them to renew.
  2. Although service animals cannot become therapy dogs, emotional support animals can! The benefit fo doing this is that ESAs are already practiced in giving love and support to their owners, so they know what to do. It can also be a great way for ESA owners to get out, socialize, and give something back to the community.
  3. Disabled dogs can still become therapy dogs with TDI. Special tests have been devised for blind dogs, deaf dogs, and even dogs with wheels.
  4. TDI membership also includes volunteer insurance which will cover you while on visits with your therapy dog.

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