How to Train a Therapy Dog: Can Your Dog Become a Certified Therapy Dog?

Posted 14 Weeks Ago

A therapy dog or ‘comfort’ dog offers support and consolation to their owner and others, particularly within environments including nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, and schools. A therapy dog helps individuals who require assistance to manage an emotional or physical issue.

What is a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog or ‘comfort’ dog offers support and consolation to their owner and others, particularly within environments including nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, and schools. A therapy dog helps individuals who require assistance to manage an emotional or physical issue.

However, a therapy dog is not classed as a service dog who provides a particular service to a person with a disability, nor is a therapy dog identified as an emotional support animal (ESA), who requires a specific medical prescription for a person with a restricting mental illness. Subsequently, this means that therapy dogs do not receive the same legal privileges as service dogs, ESAs, or assistance dogs. They can only enter the premises where they are required.

A therapy animal can also be any type of animal – literally! Whether it’s a cat, rabbit, horse, bird, or even an alpaca, they can become your very own therapy animal.

What Traits Should a Therapy Dog Have?

Any dog breed can become a therapy dog, as long as they are friendly. Often, larger breeds are trained as therapy dogs, such as Labradors, golden retrievers, or German shepherds. However, smaller dogs are great for sharing tighter spaces with their owner, such as miniature poodles, corgis, beagles, or Pomeranians.

In order for your furry friend to be considered a therapy dog, there are four main criteria which they have to meet to validate they’re suitable for the activities required.

–       They must be no younger than nine to twelve months old, or fully into adulthood.

–       They must be trained to behave on a leash and must be obedient when petted or roughly stroked by strangers. They must not display any signs of aggression towards other dogs, food, or toys.

–       They must be healthy, parasite-free, and well-groomed, having frequent health examinations.

–       Your dog must successfully pass a temperament test to show they can be trusted and remain calm around strangers, or within busy or loud places. They should not be jumpy or reactive to loud sounds or unusual smells. It’s important that your dog is friendly, gentle, and patient for them to pass this test.

Benefits of Owning a Therapy Dog

Owning a therapy dog can boost your mental health, as studies show that a range of psychiatric illnesses can be improved with the aid of therapy dogs. Particularly, within patients with bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, and Alzheimer’s disease, the interaction with companion animals and therapy dogs are shown to help significantly with emotional challenges.

Often, these emotional struggles are the consequence of physical conditions which, as studies indicate, therapy dogs can also help to improve. It’s shown within young patients (3-17 years) recovering from a painful accident or challenging surgery, who engage in rehabilitation alongside animals, could result in feeling less pain. This is due to the increase in oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone, and decrease of cortisol, the stress hormone.