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Therapy Dog Training

A golden retriever in a group of people

There are many wonderful benefits to having a pet. Unfortunately, not everyone can have a pet. A therapy dog can go visit those people who cannot have a pet and bring them the same joy that you get to enjoy each day.

These people may be in the hospital, nursing home, or other facilities that do not allow pets. You can train your dog to be a therapy dog so you can take them to visit these people. This article will explain what a therapy dog is and how you can train your dog to be a therapy dog.

What is a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog provides comfort and affection to people in a hospital or nursing home. They can also help people who have to deal with a physical or emotional problem. Many therapy dogs are seen in airport or college campuses around the final time.

Therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs. A service dog provides a specific service for a person with special needs. A therapy dog is not allowed to enter every place you are as services dogs are allowed to do. A Therapy dog is also different than an emotional support animal. These require a prescription from a mental health care professional.

A therapy dog requires a certification from a national organization, according to the American Kennel Club. These dogs must be an adult dog andmust be able to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. This test will test your dog’s ability to “leave it” on command.

This is a needed skill your dog will need to enter a hospital setting.A therapy dog  can be any dog as long as it responds to training and passes its tests. These dogs cannot be aggressive and should be very affectionate to people, even strangers.

Almost any animal can be a therapy animal. There are even therapy cats, birds, snakes, and small mammals.

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How to Train a Therapy Dog

When you start to train your dog to be a therapy dog, it is easier to train a puppy or younger dog. The earlier that you start to socialize your dog, the better the therapy dog you will have. Many times this has to be started at a young age.

Your dog will need to know the basic commands and will have to pass the ACK Canine Good Citizen test. This test covers the basics of public dog etiquette, including:

  • “Leave It.”This keeps them from bothering objects or animals. When they are in public, they will not be allowed to pick up whatever they want to.
  • Sit and Stay. These are always necessary to keep your dog under control. Many times, these commands will need to be followed both on and off a leash.
  • Come. Your dog will need to know how to come when called. This helps keep them under control and close to their human.
  • Loose-leash walking. They will be taken into many different public places like offices or schools and need to know how to walk on a leash properly. They should not pull on the leash all the time.
  • No jumping. You will need to learn not to jump up on people. This is required for almost all dogs that are going to be in public. If your dog went into a nursing home or hospital and jumped up on someone, they could easily knock them over, causing them more injuries and problems.

When training your dog to be a therapy dog, clicker training is a very useful tool to use. A clicker is used to give positive reinforcement when training your dog to follow simple commands.

Clickers can easily help your dog to easily pass the Canine Good Citizen test. Clicker training also works very well for athletic training and leash training, which aids in their ability to become a therapy dog

Test for Therapy Dog Certifications

There are two tests that exist in different environments your dog may encounter. Your dog will have to pass these tests to be able to be a therapy dog. These tests are:

  • The Urban Canine Good Citizen test: This test your dog has to have mastered 10 different skills, all of which will be needed to know to be a great therapy dog.  Once your dog can perform these skills, they can take the test and earn their canine good citizen certificate. 
  • The Community Canine test: This is a more advanced version of the canine good citizen test.  Once your dog has passed the canine good citizen test, they can then advance to more training and obedience.  This test usually takes place in a public area and busy sidewalks.  This is to make sure that your dog can properly behave in very busy areas. 

A therapy pet is a great thing to do with your dog. They will help brighten the day of the people that they encounter.  Many of these people are sick or not able to have a dog, and when you bring your dog to see them will help them get better quicker. Not only will this help the people you encounter but will also help you to know that you are spreading happiness in people’s lives. 

Most dogs really enjoy their training and therapy visits. They get to interact with other people who really love to pet them. When starting your training off at a young age and being persistent, your dog can easily and quickly learn the task that they need to pass the test to be a therapy dog.

Meet The Author 

Dr. Sara Ochoa DVM


Since she was a little girl, Dr. Ochoa knew that her dream was to become a veterinarian. With a tremendous passion and love for animals, she is now a great source of knowledge for others. Dr. Ochoa lives happily with her husband Greg and her babies: Ruby the Schnoodle and Bam-Bam the bunny.

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