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How to train a therapy dog

What’s a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs provide comfort or a type of relief (improve emotional well-being) to those suffering anxiety, some type of mental or emotional disorder, depression stemming from a medical condition, etc. Basically, they are meant to make their handlers or general patients they visit feel good!

train a therapy dogDifference Between a Therapy Dog and Emotional Support Dog

Both of these categories are very similar and both dogs perform some of the same functions! That being said, service dogs need an official ‘letter’ from a licensed medical professional signifying their status. They are offered certain privileges therapy dogs may not be, but don’t require the same training or certifications.

Therapy Dog Training Requirements

If you want to know how to train a therapy dog, there isn’t much to it! Instilling strong social skills is probably the most important part. Socialization should have already began during puppyhood, and carry on for the rest of the dog’s life.

Your therapy dog might not need to be great with other people to make you feel great, but those social skills will be needed to pass something like the AKC Canine Good Citizen(CGC) test. A well socialized dog will have a much easier time becoming certified.

  • Must be an adult
  • May be required to pass a certification test for obedience and social behavior
  • Must be well socialized with children, strangers and other dogs

You can seek assistance training your therapy dog for work, but you really don’t need to. Building strong social skills are important to all dogs and should be a basic part of dog training from the first few weeks you bring that tiny pup home with you. Since this is the main requirement, you can train your dog on your own.

How to Get Therapy Dog Certified

Let’s say you’re trying to certify with the American Kennel Club. You could either obtain the AKC Canine GOOD Citizen or Advanced Canine titles, allowing you to practice CGC items in actual situations and enhance your dog’s social skills. Strong socialization is very important here!

Upon passing the AKC tests, you can register with one of the national therapy dog organizations available, and begin your own (dog’s) therapy work. The following skills are required:

  • Is able to greet friendly strangers
  • Know ‘sit’ command, allow petting
  • Allow grooming, brushing, allow paws & ears to be handled
  • Polite loose leash walking skills
  • Able to move as directed in crowded areas
  • Able to follow sit, lie down, stay in place commands
  • Good recall (comes when called)
  • Well socialized with other dogs
  • Reacts confidently with distractions
  • Able to be left with trusted person

Loose leash walking and training a dog to ignore distractions will probably require the most time and patience, but any handler can do this. All the resources needed are free (as long as you can access the internet), right at your fingertips! 

In general, your pup will need to behave calmly around crowded social areas, like parks or general city spots. This means the actual commands your dog will need to know are: 

  • Sit
  • Lie down
  • Stay
  • Come 

What is the Cost of training a Therapy Dog?

How much do you value your time? The training itself is basic and these are skills recommended for all dogs to have. Any handler can do this for free, as long as they are willing to devote the time and effort required to teach themselves these educational skills first.

Are you feeling completely lost, and have no idea which direction to take? Perhaps you simply don’t want to do something wrong and make matters worse. Because the training is so basic it might only cost you, for example, $30 per session and a total of $250 USD, depending on the organization offering it.

Most dog training is also about teaching the handler to cope with their own dogs, so you’ll probably end up learning to teach or reinforce these skills anyway. Beyond that, individual training offers a wonderful chance for an owner to bond with their pet!

In the end, your dog will need to be certified by an AKC recognized organization and perform a certain number of therapy visits for the individual title you’re seeking. You can see a list of AKC recognized organizations here, or those titles are

  • 400 visits= AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD) title
  • 200 visits=AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX) title
  • 100 visits= AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA) title
  • 50 visits= AKC Therapy Dog (THD) title.
  • 10 visits= AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN) title

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