Can My Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

One of the best parts of pet ownership is spending your time with your pet. A cuddle on the couch can be a great pick-me-up after a stressful or difficult day.

If your dog is that good at raising your mood, shouldn’t they be able to help others as well?

Have you ever thought, “can my dog be a therapy dog?” If you have, there are some hoops to jump through. Almost any dog can be a therapy dog though. Read below to find out how.

What is a Therapy Dog?

In short, a therapy dog is a dog that provides psychological and physiological therapy to people who are not their handler. What this means is that a therapy dog and their handler visit other people to help elevate their moods or put them in better spirits.

As such, a therapy dog goes pretty much any place where people might need cheering up. Therapy dogs visit hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, group homes rehabilitation centers and churches.

They may also visit schools or daycares to interact with children. Therapy dogs have even been used on college campuses to help de-stress students leading up to midterms and finals.

Wherever the service dog is used, a Saint Barnabas Medical Center study has shown that animal-assisted therapy, “can augment health and wellbeing by lowering blood pressure, decreasing anxiety, reducing loneliness, and improving mental outlook and quality of life.”

So, therapy dogs improve the emotional well-being of an individual, they also improve the patients’ physical health as well.

Can My Dog Be A Therapy Dog?

With all the benefits of therapy dogs, you might be wondering, can my dog be a service dog? The answer is kind of complicated.

Pretty much any dog can be a therapy dog. There are no size or breed requirements for therapy dogs. The most important attribute a therapy dog can have is a good temperament.

Therapy dogs must be well trained and well socialized. They should also be adaptable to many different situations, places, and people. If your dog fits this description, they may be a good candidate for being a therapy dog.

To become a therapy dog, you have to have your dog certified. There is no national certifying body for therapy dogs, but most places recognize certification from either Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International.

Both organizations require that you and your dog meet certain minimum requirements. Pet Partners requires you:

  • Create an online account with them.
  • Take a Handler Course. This is to teach the handler the expectations, your dog does not need to complete this portion.
  • Have a vet confirm in writing that your dog is in good health.
  • Attend a Team Evaluation to ensure you and your pet work well together.
  • Complete a Volunteer Agreement and upload your photo for your badge.

If you would like to be certified by Therapy Dogs International, you’ll have to:

  • Ensure your dog is at least one year old.
  • Prove your dog is in good health.
  • Be of good character.
  • Have your dog pass TDI’s evaluation done in person by an evaluator.

If there are no testing facilities within four hours’ drive time of your home, you are able to submit testing and recommendations through the mail.

Can Therapy Dogs Go Anywhere?

Here’s the million-dollar question. Once your dog becomes a certified therapy dog, are you able to take them anywhere? The answer is no.

Therapy dogs have gone through extensive certification to prove they are of good nature, but that doesn’t give them the right to go anywhere you want them to. The American Kennel Club states clearly on their website that it is, “…unethical to attempt to pass off a therapy dog as a service dog for purposes such as flying on a plane or being admitted to a restaurant.”

Different Types of Assistance Dog

If you’re thinking to yourself, I’ve seen dogs at restaurants before, you’re probably not wrong. The point is that therapy dogs do not have special permission to enter these places. There are other types of assistance dogs that can though.

Therapy Dog

If you’ve read this far, you probably know the ins and outs of a service dog. These dogs can tolerate a large variety of experiences. They are not allowed in public buildings without first being invited in. There is also no training mandated to become a therapy dog. Lastly, they are primarily used to help people who are not their handler.

Emotional Support Dog

While therapy dogs are used to help others, an emotional support dog is meant only to help their handler. These dogs also do not require any special training, but they will need a certified letter from a therapist stating your need for an emotional support animal.

Because an emotional support animal is like a “prescription” and medically necessary, they can enter public places and a handler cannot be charged more from a landlord or airline.

An emotional support dog can also be a therapy dog at the same time.

Service Dog

A service dog is very specifically trained to help only one person who has a disability. As such, the dog can enter all public places like hotels, restaurants, and even no-pet housing. Businesses cannot charge the handler a fee for allowing the dog access to these places as the animal is considered a medical device and not a pet.

While emotional support and therapy dogs are meant to give emotional support to people, service dogs do not. They are only meant to assist their disabled handler. Service dogs are also protected by the American with Disabilities Act.

Final Thoughts

While there are many kinds of assistance dogs, therapy dogs are specifically meant to help others. If you’re wondering if your dog can be a therapy dog, you’ve probably seen for yourself how positive a relationship with a dog can be.

If your dog is level-headed, calm, and is ready for pets from anyone, they might make a great therapy dog.

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