How to Train a Therapy Dog: Requirements You Need to Know

How to Train a Therapy Dog: Requirements You Need to Know

In America, there are over 50,000 therapy dogs in the country. These animals provide lots of comfort and support for people in distress, and you may be thinking of helping people in need out.

Are you wondering about the details on how to train a therapy dog? Then keep reading. In this article, we'll discuss how to train your dog and what you need to get the proper certifications.

Difference Between a Service Dog and Therapy Dog

First of all, let's make sure we're on the same page. You may think "service dog" and "therapy dog" are synonymous, but they're in fact, two different things. Let's explore the differences below.

Service Dog

A service dog helps people who fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are trained to recognize certain health issues, such as psychiatric episodes or seizures. They can also assist disabled individuals to reach items, open doors and cabinets, be aware of people around them (such as if they are deaf or blind), and help autistic people handle being out.

Because these dogs fall under the ADA, this means they have full public access rights. So while normal pet dogs can't go to these places, service dogs can.

Service dogs are allowed in public spaces such as restaurants, libraries, stores, and even on public transportation. Also, landlords cannot forbid the possession of a service dog, even if normal pets aren't allowed for other tenants.

Service dogs usually stay with one owner for their life, as they'll need help throughout the rest of the years with their disabilities.

Therapy Dog

On the other hand, therapy dogs are animals that are trained to give affection and comfort to people who need support in dealing with either a physical or emotional issue. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs don't fall under the ADA, which means owners and handlers don't have the same rights.

For example, if you train your dog to be a therapy dog, you may not be entitled to legally keeping it at your apartment if your landlord doesn't allow it in your contract. You can bring them to certain public settings (such as hospitals, schools, and libraries), but you'll have to ensure you have the proper certification, registration, and even insurance to do so.

Therapy dogs don't have one specific "handler"; instead, they travel and visit different establishments to help a wide variety of people.

Because of this, therapy dogs also differ from emotional support animals (ESAs). ESAs typically stay with one owner, like with service dogs. These have to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to help with a diagnosed disorder.

Now that you know the difference between these types of dogs, let's see what the requirements are for your dog to become a therapy dog.

Therapy Dog Requirements

If you're worried that your dog is too old, too young, or the wrong breed, then there's good news! There are actually no requirements for age (besides being at least 1 year old) or breed. So as long as your pup is over 1 years old, then there's a good chance that they can become a therapy dog, regardless of their breed.

Do note that your dog does need to be in good health. So many sure you keep up with your pooch's vet visits.

That way, if there's anything amiss, you can get it taken care of so your dog stays strong and healthy. Also, they'll need up-to-date vaccinations, so make sure they're all caught up before sending in your application.

Now for some tips on how to train your dog to be a therapy dog.

Think It Over Carefully First

It may be exciting for you to think about making your pet a therapy dog, but it's not right for every pup. Sure, your dog may show you everlasting love and affection, but to be a great therapy dog, they must act this way with everyone.

So start by bringing them out wherever you go. Do they greet people with love, just like they do with you? Or do they become shy and/or standoffish?

If they're more standoffish, then this could be a sign that being a therapy animal isn't the job for your dog. But that doesn't necessarily mean that all hope is lost. Instead, it just means you might have to put in a little extra work.

However, do note that not every dog is suited to being a therapy dog, and that's ok! You'll have to have to be the sole target of your pooch's love. You can always try with another dog in the future.

Start Them Young

If possible, you should start training your dog while they're young. Not only will this ensure that they're well-behaved from a young age, but it'll also get them used to being around other people and animals.

Socialization is extremely important for building up your puppy's trust in other people and animals. Other living beings can be unpredictable, after all, especially if they're suffering from a condition or distress. The more socialized your dog is, the more prepared they'll be to handle anything that happens.

group of puppies, maybe future therapy dogs

future therapy dogs?

Do the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Test

A great way to train a therapy dog is to go through the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test. Many organizations require a pass from this test for certification, so you might as well start off with it to get a head start. Plus, it gives you a good idea of whether or not your dog is suited for the job.

You can either go through this test on your own or you can look for local organizations that offer this class. Parts of the test include:

  • How your dog receives a friendly stranger
  • If they allow strangers to pet them
  • How easily they allow strangers to check them
  • Ability to walk on a leash
  • Ability to walk through a crowd with good behavior
  • Ability to follow basic commands
  • How they react to other dogs
  • How they react to distractions
  • How they handle being separated from their owner

If your dog is able to do all these things with flying colors, then they're well on their way to becoming a therapy dog.

Did your pooch not pass the Canine Good Citizen test? Then you can try the AKC STAR Puppy Program. This helps you work with your pup on critical behaviors to master, which will set them up for success.

The Certification Test

So your dog is healthy and you feel like they're a great candidate as a therapy dog. What now?

The next step is to get in touch with an organization that gives out certifications. One good one to turn to is Therapy Dogs International (TDI). They'll require your dog to have passed the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test.

The TDI will then assess your dog for their temperament and handling, and will determine whether or not they'd make a good therapy dog. If your dog is affectionate and well-behaved, then chances are, you'll get the certification for your pet to become a therapy dog.

What Happens Afterward

After your dog receives their certification, the first few visits you make will most likely be supervised by the organization you applied with. When they see how well your dog does, they'll give you the go-ahead to make visits on your own.

To get an actual therapy dog certification from the AKC, you'll need to complete 50 visits. Make sure you keep detailed records and get staff signatures.

Once you receive an AKC certification, you and your pooch will have significantly more opportunities to attend events, and you may get an invitation to join local therapy dog teams. These visits will count towards further accolades with the AKC, including Advanced (100 visits), Excellent (200 visits), and Distinguished (400 visits).

Know How to Train a Therapy Dog to Help Others

Perhaps after reading this article, you feel like your pup would make an excellent therapy dog. In this case, by knowing how to train a therapy dog, you'll have an easier time getting both yourself and your dog up to speed.

Remember to start your puppy young and to be diligent in ensuring they're obedient and not easily distracted. Plus, they need to be receptive to strangers and not easily spooked.

If, after doing your best, it doesn't seem like your dog will be up to the task, you shouldn't be too dismayed. Not every dog is cut out for therapy work, so as long as they show you love, that's all that matters!

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