Certifying Your Dog as a Therapy Dog

Do you think your dog has what it takes to become a certified therapy dog? Are you interested in volunteer opportunities with schools, libraries, nursing facilities, hospitals, or other locales?

Alliance for Therapy Dog’s Mission states: Therapy dogs and their handlers share smiles and joy with people of all ages!

Benefits of A Therapy Dog

The benefits of therapy dogs are numerous; physical benefits for those visited by a therapy dog and handler team are just the beginning! There are many social benefits to a visit from a therapy dog: 

  1. promotes self-esteem 
  2. focuses interaction with others 
  3. reduces heart rate and blood pressure
  4. reduces anxiety
  5. increases endorphins

Prerequisites to Get your Dog Certified

yellow lab licking elderly mans faceMany organizations require testing of both the dog and the handler. The exam is designed to ensure the handler and dog have a good relationship with each other as well as, the dog having the right temperament.

Many therapy dog programs require the Canine Good Citizen award. The CGC program is a training program for this work. Included in the program are bonding, socialization, and basic obedience. Their tagline is “Responsible Owners, Well-Mannered Dogs”.


Dogs in the CGC program must pass a 10 step non-competitive test.  The steps include the following:

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger
  2. Sitting politely for petting
  3. Appearance and grooming
  4. Walking on a loose lead
  5. Walking through a crowd
  6. Sit, down, stay on command
  7. Come when called
  8. Reactions to other dogs
  9. Reaction to distractions
  10. Supervised separation

Additionally, the handler must subscribe to the AKC Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge. Their pledge states that they will uphold responsibilities that go with dog ownership including agree to keep their dog in good health, providing opportunities for training and exercise, and provide for the overall quality of life for the dog.

How To Tell If Your Dog is A Good Therapy Dog Candidate

two french bulldogs together on a walk

Socialization is key; a therapy dog must be friendly, well-mannered, able to follow commands and be well handled by the human of his team (you). A therapy dog’s sole purpose is to provide comfort and affection to those they visit, most often a hospital typesetting.

Dogs who are great candidates to become a Therapy Dog love being around people, aren’t frightened by loud noises and don’t experience anxiety in new places, surrounded by new sights, smells, and things.

Getting Your Dog Certified

Once you think your dog is ready to become certified as a therapy dog, you both will have to be tested.  An observer (TO) will monitor you and your dog during three visits to a facility.

What will your dog be tested on?

Manners, friendliness with strangers, ability to follow directions.

Additionally, your skills in handling the dog will be watched. If all goes well during your three on-site observed visits, you’ll be given the go-ahead to submit your application and be on your way to becoming a certified therapy team!

For more information about therapy dog certification, reach out to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs or any groups recommended by the AKC.



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