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Guide to Therapy Dogs

23 November, 2018

What do you need to know about Therapy Dogs:

Dogs can have a beneficial impact on the people around them, whether they serve an individual as a service dog, provide support as an emotional support dog, or bring comfort as a therapy dog. Here are some of the differences between these types of dogs:

Service Dogs – Service dogs, defined under the ADA, are individually trained to work and perform tasks for a person with a disability. These dogs are covered under the ADA’s rights, meaning they can be brought into public establishments and live with their disabled owner even when a “no pets” policy is in place.

Emotional Support DogsEmotional support dogs are the middle ground between service dogs and therapy dogs. These dogs provide emotional support through companionship and can be trained for a specific owner, but are not explicitly trained for people with disabilities. These dogs help relieve loneliness, depression, anxieties, and phobias. However, they are not covered under the ADA’s rights to bring animals into public establishments but can live with their disabled owner even if there is a “no pets” policy.

Therapy Dogs – Therapy dogs bring emotional support through long-term care in places such as hospitals, retirement homes, schools, mental health institutions. These dogs are not covered under the ADA and are usually brought into institutions through a non-profit organization. Therapy dogs can handle various environments and bring comfort to many people in clinical, and learning settings and typically are trained, licensed, and insured under an organization.

Hence, the validation of what constitutes a therapy dog has a specific definition, but in regards to legal rights, those rights can vary. According to the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, there is a lack of objective data regarding the public’s ability to understand these animal’s roles as well as the animal’s legitimacy concerning rules and regulations overlooking them. Governing documents and company policies all have different definitions of therapy dogs and how they interact with public spaces.  The JERPH states that no specific laws governing therapy animals. Thus, this leaves the rules regarding therapy animals lacking in definition and can also lead to loopholes about how therapy dogs interact with the world.

Therapy Dog Registry - Maltese
What do laws and policies state about Therapy Dogs?

According to the Fair Housing Act, the act follows the ADA guidelines regarding service animals and thus uses the term “assistance animal” as a way to ensure housing providers of their obligations, labeling the terms “service animal,” “support animals” and “therapy animals” within that definition. While the FHA defines therapy dogs under the term “assistance,” the FHA allows housing providers to refuse access for therapy dogs onto their property but will allow service dogs to gain access to public spaces because of their rights under the ADA. Emotional support animals have access to housing, in spite of no-pets policies under the FHA. 

In the state of New York, a report issued in 2018, concluded that there are no national or statewide standards regarding training, evaluation, certification, and identification of therapy dogs. It also states that there is “confusion regarding the rights and responsibilities of [owners of] therapy dogs [and] emotional support dogs.” Hence, in its conclusion, it states that it recommends the development of those standards so it can benefit the public, their dogs, and organizations, also suggesting that therapy dogs should be licensed and identified by therapy dog tags and other accessories and should have liability insurance as part of their coverage.

Another organization, Assistance Dogs International, follows the ADA guidelines in regards to service animals, but does not explicitly define the difference between service, emotional support, and therapy dogs, also using the classification assistance dogs as an overarching term. The ADI’s standards apply more so to people with disabilities, stating that whether the disability is physical or mental, the animal must be individually trained for specific tasks for that person to be considered a service dog and be given ADA rights. Thus, the ADI only provides training standards for service animal trainers and organizations, excluding emotional support dogs and therapy dogs from those standards.

Unlike governing policies and accreditation organizations, companies like IHOP help define therapy dogs and the boundaries for these kinds of assistance animals. According to IHOP’s policy, therapy dogs are trained, certified, and insured to work in institutions to help educate a community, provide comfort, and act as animal ambassadors for their local community. They also state that therapy dogs do not fall under the ADA regulation and have no rights to public access. Hence, if a therapy dog were to try and gain public access to an IHOP restaurant, they would not be allowed to unless otherwise allowed by the owner of the establishment.

How can Therapy Dogs get certified?

The American Kennel Club, while does not certify therapy dogs, provides their training programs for organizations to use to be able to verify their dog as a therapy dog. The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) is considered to be a prerequisite, which includes the 10-step CGC test as a way for their dogs to get acquainted with basic dog training requirements. The AKC also offers title awards in their AKC Therapy Dog™ program, which allows the organization to recognize dogs for excellent service and meet requirements needed by their AKC approved training organization.

Approved organizations, such as Alliance of Therapy Dogs, have their own set of standards for those wishing to turn their dogs into therapy dogs, which includes finding a certified tester to test the dog’s basic training and demeanor. Once the dog goes through a few test runs supervised by the examiner in medical facilities, the person can apply and approve their animal. ATD members then must follow the organization’s guidelines, which includes the ATD providing liability insurance, dog health requirements, grooming requirements, dog equipment, and safety precautions.

If you would like to register your therapy dog online, you may do so here. You can also order your identification card and therapy dog vest while registering your therapy animal. Although not legally required, having a therapy animal identification card and vest can be useful when identifying your animal as a therapy animal in public.

Can my dog become a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs can be any breed of dog, as the primary purpose of therapy dogs is to provide people with companionship and comfort. Hence, therapy dogs must be able to enjoy the company of people of all ages and be comfortable being touched. The AKC has their own outlined qualities, including:

  • The dog must have an undiscriminating love for the people he/she meets
  • Have a willingness to meet new people
  • Have a calm demeanor
  • Have a high tolerance for physical discomfort
  • Must not get easily scared by loud noises and sudden movements

When it comes to therapy dogs in public spaces, therapy dogs can only be allowed in open areas when that public space has a therapy dog program or is permitted by the official representative of that organization/company, according to the ATD. Because these dogs can bring support in care and education facilities, therapy dogs can They also states that the presence of a therapy dog can be overall beneficial to the people around them. The ATD says that animal-assisted therapy helps people relax by releasing serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin in the brain, reducing loneliness, providing comfort, and creating a distraction as a result. Physically, therapy dogs can lower blood pressure, diminish physical pain, motivate people, and help with social interaction. Because these dogs are not generally allocated to a disabled owner, these dogs can be specially trained to support more than one person through any situation.

Therapy Dog Registry - Yorkie

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