How to Become a Therapy Dog Handler

by | March 15, 2022 | Blog

Learn how to train certify and volunteer with your dog

“How to make your dog a Therapy Dog” is part three of a four part series on dogs and mental health in collaboration with Elizabeth Sánchez Arvizu, M.A.’s #ReFrameAndReEnchant initiative on Psychology for Geeks.

Discover how to become a Therapy Dog Handler and partner with your pup to make a difference in your community.

When I adopted my dog Sunny, I soon learned about Therapy Dogs and their incredible impact on people in need.

At that time I was just getting ready to begin my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and I was very interested in learning more about how to integrate my dog into my future work through Animal Assisted Therapy as Sunny loves to meet other people and provide comfort and joy to them when she senses they need it.

While we worked on general obedience and agility training, her trainers often commented on her temperament and how she would be well-suited for therapy work, so I started to research if this could be a good path for us.

Here are the steps on how to become a Therapy Dog Handler:

1. Choose the ideal volunteering environment

Therapy Dogs can volunteer in various places, such as:

They can also collaborate with specific groups or professionals like therapists and social workers.

Ask yourself:

  • Do medical facilities make you anxious?
  • Is your dog comfortable around kids?
  • Can you remain calm in high-stress environments?

Learn more: I have a worksheet to help you through this in my free guide:

2. Train your dog to be an AKC Canine Good Citizen

Most organizations require training similar to the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) exam. Starting with CGC lays a strong foundation.

CGC Test Items:

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger
  2. Sitting politely for petting
  3. Appearance and grooming
  4. Walking on a loose leash
  5. Walking through a crowd
  6. Sit, down, and stay commands
  7. Coming when called
  8. Reaction to another dog
  9. Reaction to distractions
  10. Supervised separation

Training classes tip: Some evaluators offer training classes, which can help your dog develop their skills.

3. Consider your lifestyle

Ask organizations questions about:

  • Specific harnesses, collars, or leashes
  • Raw food diets
  • Required vaccinations
  • Insurance coverage
  • Breed or disability restrictions
  • Frequency of volunteering
  • Service Animals becoming Therapy Dogs

Note: Know the difference between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).

FAQs about Therapy Dogs

  • What are the benefits of therapy dogs for patients? Therapy dogs provide comfort, stress relief, and emotional support to patients. They can help reduce anxiety, improve mood, and promote social interaction.
  • Can any breed become a therapy dog? Yes, any breed can become a therapy dog as long as they have the right temperament, training, and socialization. The dog should be friendly, patient, and able to handle various environments and people.
  • How long does it take to train a therapy dog? The training duration depends on the dog’s existing skills and the specific requirements of the therapy dog organization. It may take several weeks to a few months to complete the necessary training and certification process.

Ready to start?

If you’ve considered the environment, training, and lifestyle, you’re ready to research the right organization for you and your dog. Remember, therapy dog organizations are not regulated, but the AKC recognizes some of them, which can be a helpful starting point.

National Organizations Recognized by the AKC:

Each organization has different requirements, so be sure to check their guidelines before you start.

Local organizations: You might prefer a local organization. If you have a specific facility in mind, ask which Therapy Dog organization they work with.

Download my free guide!

For more information and helpful worksheets, download my free guide on “How to get started as a Therapy Dog team” at sherrierohde.com/guide. This guide will provide you with valuable insights and resources to help you and your dog embark on a rewarding journey as a Therapy Dog team.

I want to hear about your journey!

By following these steps and putting in the effort, you can discover how to become a Therapy Dog Handler and partner with your pup to bring joy and comfort to those who need it most. With patience, dedication, and a heart for helping others, you and your dog can make a significant impact on the lives of many.

Even if you are just getting started, I would love to get to know you and hear about your journey to becoming a Therapy Dog team with your pup. Please feel free to reach out at @therapydogtalk and say hello. 🙂

If you are interested in learning more about Therapy Dogs, please check out my podcast Therapy Dog Talk.

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