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Home > Dogs > How to Get a Therapy Dog Certification: 6 Key Steps

How to Get a Therapy Dog Certification: 6 Key Steps

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Trained therapy dogs provide affection and comfort to people in a variety of situations. Some therapy dogs bring joy to those confined to nursing homes and hospitals, while other therapy dogs help children to learn to read by providing comfort at your local library.

Therapy dogs can also help in high-stress environments, such as workplaces or colleges. Therapy dogs aren’t service dogs or emotional support animals, but still provide a vital service to those needing comfort.

Any dog that is being considered for work as a therapy dog needs to remain under control and be well-behaved at all times. If you’re interested in learning how to get your dog certified as a therapy dog, read on to learn six key steps to obtaining a therapy dog certification.

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6 Steps to Getting a Therapy Dog Certification

1. Behavioral Training and the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test

Many therapy dog organizations require that your dog have basic training before they will consider allowing your dog to join their group. Your dog will likely need to go through extensive behavioral training before they are accepted into any therapy dog organization. Some organizations require that a dog pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test1, which teaches basic training and good behavior.

During this 10-skill test, your dog will be required to show it knows how to come on command and then sit or down and stay. The test also requires that the dog reacts positively to strangers, sits politely while being pet, walks on a loose leash, can handle walking through a crowd, reacts well to distractions, handles grooming activities, and will still behave well if separated from the owner.

chihuahua dog going through obedience training
Image By: LNbjors, Shutterstock

2. Explore Local Therapy Dog Organizations

Therapy dog groups are run by therapy dog handlers who are well-versed in the skills both you and your dog will need when you start volunteering in therapeutic settings.

One of the best ways to connect with your local group is to contact your local hospitals, senior homes, schools, or libraries to see if they’ve hosted a therapy dog in the past. Volunteer coordinators often are willing to tell you which organization they work with and provide you with contact information so you can inquire with the group about getting started.

In addition to local groups, the AKC recognizes a certain number of therapy dog organizations that have helped advance the utilization of therapy dogs and the field of animal-assisted therapy itself. Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Love on a Leash, Therapy Dogs Incorporated, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Therapy Dogs International, and Pet Partners are just a few of the national therapy dog registration and/or certification organizations. A full list of AKC-recognized therapy dog organizations can be found here2.


3. Register With the Therapy Dog Organization

Now that your dog is properly trained and has passed the AKC Good Citizen Test, you can reach out to your local therapy dog organization and get registered. The organization will likely have its own requirements that you and your dog will have to meet before you can start volunteering.

Signing a form
Image By: Cytonn Photography, Pexels

4. Medical Records

Therapy dogs need to be healthy if they’re going to be volunteering in therapeutic settings. An annual exam by your veterinarian with an updated vaccine record, as well as parasite prevention, will be important for your dog to stay healthy, as well as provide any records your dog may need to volunteer.


5. Start Volunteering with a Therapy Dog Organization

Once you and your dog have completed your local therapy dog organization’s requirements, you can finalize your registration with the organization. The next step is the best—you can start volunteering with your dog and bringing smiles to people’s faces.

training puppy is walking next to the dog handler off leash
Image By: Happy monkey, Shutterstock

6. Apply for an AKC Therapy Dog Title

After volunteering with your organization for a while, you can apply for the AKC Therapy Dog Title to help give your dog recognition for all the work they’ve done to help improve the lives of the people they’ve worked with3.

Differences Between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, & Emotional Support Animals

There are vital differences between therapy dogs, service dogs, and emotional support animals. Here are the differences between the types of animals:

  1. As defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are trained to help an individual with a disability lead an independent life. They are trained to help that individual with performing tasks to mitigate the person’s disability. The dogs are permitted with their owners in public facilities, can have cabin access on flights, and are eligible for special housing accommodations.
  2. Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and comfort to improve the lines of people in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, libraries, and more. They are not service dogs and don’t have the access to cabin seating on flights, can’t access public facilities, and aren’t eligible for special housing accommodations.
  3. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) aren’t service animals—they are pets. A mental health professional must prescribe the pet as an emotional support animal to a person with a mental illness that is disabling. In many states, the ESA is not granted access to public facilities, but some state and local laws may allow accommodations—so it’s worth looking into your local laws. According to the United States Depart of Transportation (DOT), airlines aren’t required to accommodate emotional support animals on their flights.

golden retriever therapy dog
Image By: Ryan Stone, Unsplash

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Final Thoughts

Training your dog to become a therapy dog is a very rewarding opportunity for both dogs and owners alike. If you want your dog to become a therapy dog, it must be well-trained, remain under control in public settings, and will likely be required to pass the AKC Good Citizen Test.

Once your dog is trained, you will need to find a local therapy dog organization to get registered with and then begin volunteering. It will also be important that you get your dog annual checkups and keep them healthy so they can volunteer in a variety of settings. Once you’ve started volunteering, you can apply for an AKC Therapy Dog Title so your dog can get recognized for all its hard work.


Featured Image Credit: John Tuesday, unsplash

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