therapy dog

How to Train Your Dog to Become a Therapy Dog

Training your dog to become a therapy dog is a beautiful way to bond with them, and truly spend quality time with one another. No matter what breed they are, if you provide them with unconditional love and affection, and they will, in turn, do the same. But transforming them to become a certified therapy dog does take a bit more practice and steps than you may realize. To give you some insight into the process and how to begin, here is some helpful guidance to get you started with fostering a therapy dog of your own. 

Therapy Dogs Vs. Service Dogs

To add some clarity to this article, when discussing therapy dogs, it is not the same as service dogs. Service dogs are specifically trained to assist people who have disabilities and support them in staying as safe as possible at home and in public. 

A therapy dog, on the other hand, is known as a companion dog that provides emotional support for people. They are great at helping people get through things such as depression, PTSD, reduce overall stress, and being a loyal companion no matter what is going on in life. Though all dogs can own this title, it does require some underlying characteristics to make the entire process a smoother one. 

Therapy Dog Characteristics

In order to know if your pup can become a therapy dog, they need to feature some rooted traits to see if you are able to get them to that desired level. Below is a list of characteristics that make for a great therapy dog. If you answer yes to them, then you are fully equipped to move onto the training and certification processes to finalize the transition. 

  • Is your dog easy to train?
  • Do they love being around people and other dogs?
  • When you are around them, do they immediately brighten your day?
  • Are they well-behaved and have a gentle demeanor? 
  • Are they nurturing, calm, obedient, and friendly?

Training and Certification Processes

Before anything, you can opt to enroll your dog into a Canine Good Citizen program. This is essentially a dog school to teach them how to become therapy dogs by trained professionals. If your dog passes, they will receive a certification for their training, which is often a prerequisite for many therapy dog programs. 

  1. Your dog must have updated vet records and be written off as healthy. That should be your first mission to ensure your dog is up for the role. 
  1. Once you have the vet clearance, you should have your dog formally assessed. You can do this by contacting your local vet to obtain resources or use groups such as TDI to test and evaluate. Keep in mind that they will only take on dogs that are at least a year old and have earned their Canine Good Citizen certification.
  1. For the therapy dog certification test, chances are there will be certain expectations that they need to meet. For example, if your pet is overly shy, barks a lot, or jumps, it could disqualify them, and they may need more training. But, if they pass, they will then be able to earn their therapy dog certification, and you can then start integrating the new lifestyle. 
  1. Once certified, you can also have the option to introduce your dog to other organizations, such as hospitals, nursing homes, or childcare facilities, to provide meaningful support to others. But this is entirely up to you if you wish to offer their therapeutic service to others or not. It is your dog, and you do what feels right and comfortable for the both of you. 


The relationship between an owner and a therapy dog is one unlike any other. Not only will they learn excellent manners, temperament, and be able to host the necessary social skills to help in various settings, it also brings you both closer than ever before. So, if you are ready to begin this journey, follow the tips above and stay persistent in your methods so you can begin seeing the positive transformations. Overall, from providing comfort, support, and being an emotional outlet, training your dog to receive this title is something that benefits both of you in the end. 

Keep in mind that just like people, not all dogs are the same. If your dog has the characteristics but is taking longer to train than expected, that is perfectly okay. Just stay on track and keep going, as they will get there eventually.