Finding the best Therapy Dog organization for you and your pet can feel overwhelming, this guide can help.
Therapy dogs play a vital role in improving the well-being of people in various settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster relief situations. With so many therapy dog organizations available, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 228, it can be overwhelming to decide which one to register with. In this comprehensive guide, we will compare five prominent organizations, highlight important standards, and discuss the benefits of local and international groups. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of which organization best suits your needs and goals as a therapy dog handler.
Therapy Dog Organizations – A Closer Look
Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD)
ATD is a volunteer-based organization that focuses on providing registration, support, and insurance for therapy dog teams. They emphasize the importance of training and supporting the handler, considering them a volunteer for the organization. ATD works with a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and disaster relief situations. Their unique “Observer” system allows experienced therapy dog handlers to assess new teams and provide support as needed. Meet Alliance of Therapy Dog teams on Therapy Dog Talk.
Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs (B&BTD)
B&BTD is another volunteer-driven organization that certifies, supports, and insures therapy dog teams. They emphasize the importance of the human-animal bond and the relationship between the handler and the dog. B&BTD offers support to their members through a network of volunteer trainers and evaluators, as well as access to an online community where members can connect and learn from one another. Meet Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs teams on Therapy Dog Talk.
Love on a Leash (LOAL)
LOAL is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing certification, resources, and insurance for therapy dog teams. Their mission is to bring comfort, happiness, and healing to people in need through the human-animal bond. They work with a variety of facilities, including hospitals, schools, and senior centers, and offer support for their members through mentorship and a step-by-step process to becoming a certified therapy dog team. Meet Love on a Leash teams on Therapy Dog Talk.
Pet Partners is a well-known national organization that registers various types of therapy animals, including dogs, cats, horses, and other species. They offer comprehensive training and resources for both handlers and animals, with a strong focus on safety, welfare, and enhancing the human-animal bond. Pet Partners provides diverse programs, such as the Read With Me™ literacy support program and the Workplace Well-being program, to extend the positive impact of therapy animals. Meet Pet Partners teams on Therapy Dog Talk.
Therapy Dogs International (TDI)
TDI is a volunteer organization that tests and registers therapy dog teams. They have a strong focus on promoting the healing benefits of therapy dogs in various settings, including schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. With a history dating back to 1976, TDI is one of the largest therapy dog organizations in the United States, offering extensive reach and a comprehensive testing and certification program for therapy dogs and their handlers. They also have a dedicated Disaster Stress Relief (DSR) program that deploys therapy dog teams in times of crisis. Meet Therapy Dogs International teams on Therapy Dog Talk.
Comparing the Organizations
There’s a lot more to consider than what fits in this chart, but here’s a high level comparison:
|Registration Fees||Renewal Fees||Minimum Age||Evaluation|
|Alliance of Therapy Dogs||$45||$30||1 year||Skills test and three on-site observations|
|Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs||$65||$40||1 year||Skills test|
|Love on a Leash||$50||$30||1 year||Control Evaluation and 10 hours of supervised visits|
|Pet Partners||$95*||$70||1 year||Handler course and team evaluation|
|Therapy Dogs International||$60||$35||1 year||Skills test in a simulated environment|
* Also requires varying costs for evaluation and the Pet Partners Handlers course. Discounts are available.
Knowing the Standards
Choose an organization that follows the Standards of Practice in Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI). These standards make sure that therapy animals, handlers, and programs are professional and safe by addressing aspects of AAI, such as:
- Ethics: Ensuring that therapy dog teams act ethically, respecting the rights and well-being of clients, animals, and handlers.
- Safety: Emphasizing the importance of maintaining a safe environment for all parties involved during therapy sessions.
- Training and Evaluation: Establishing appropriate training and evaluation criteria for therapy dogs and their handlers.
- Documentation and Record-Keeping: Encouraging proper documentation and record-keeping to track progress and maintain accountability.
- Collaboration and Communication: Promoting effective communication and collaboration between therapy dog teams, clients, and other professionals involved in the AAI process.
By adhering to these standards, therapy dog organizations ensure that their registered teams provide effective and ethical support to those in need. This helps maintain a high level of trust and professionalism in the field of animal-assisted interventions.
Local and International Organizations
While most of the organizations above operate primarily within the United States, some may have a more global presence or may register teams internationally. It’s important to check the specific organization’s website or contact them directly to verify their international registration policies.
Two organizations that have an international presence or may register teams internationally are:
- Pet Partners: Although Pet Partners is based in the United States, they have expanded their reach to other countries, including Canada, Italy, and Japan. They may register therapy animal teams internationally, but it’s important to contact them to verify their policies and procedures for your specific country.
- Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD): ATD operates primarily in the United States, but they may register teams internationally on a case-by-case basis. It’s essential to reach out to them directly to inquire about their international registration process and any additional requirements.
Keep in mind that there may be other local or regional therapy dog organizations in your country (e.g. Pets As Therapy in the UK and Story Dog Australia) that are not mentioned in this list. It’s always a good idea to research and explore therapy dog organizations operating in your specific region or country for the best possible support and resources.
Important Questions to Ask
Before you choose an organization, it’s a good idea to ask some questions to make sure it’s the best fit for you and your dog. Here are some questions to consider:
- What are the requirements for joining the organization?
- How long does the certification process take?
- How often do I need to renew my membership or my dog’s certification?
- What kind of support does the organization provide for volunteers?
- Are there any specific programs or opportunities that the organization offers?
- What lifestyle considerations do I need to know in terms of vaccines and diet?
Tips for Success
Once you’ve chosen the best organization for you and your dog, keep these tips in mind to make your experience as a therapy dog team even more successful:
- Be patient and consistent during the training and evaluation process.
- Communicate openly with the organization and ask for help if needed.
- Stay committed to your volunteer work and make it a priority.
- Remember to care for yourself and your dog, both physically and emotionally.
Choosing the right therapy dog organization might seem like a big decision, but this guide should help you understand the options available to you. Take the time to research each organization, ask questions, and think about what you and your dog need.
For even more help, download my guide on How to get started as a Therapy Dog team. It will provide you with additional things to consider when choosing the best organization for you and your therapy dog. Remember that the perfect choice will depend on your needs and the goals you have as a therapy dog team, ensuring that you can make a difference in people’s lives together.