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How to Certify a Therapy Dog

Three Simple Steps to Certifying A Therapy Dog 

  • 1).  Adopt and train a dog with a mild temper and is affectionate towards people
  • 2). Register your trained therapy dog on Service Dog Certification 
  • 3). Request access to hospitals and schools so your therapy dog can start to help others

What is a Therapy Dog?

A dog that is used to help a disabled individual with a specific task is called a “service dog.” A dog (or another animal) that helps a person with a mental or emotional issue is called an “emotional support animal” (ESA). But a dog that helps a lot of people, that’s a therapy dog.

Let’s dig into the world of the therapy dog.

Overview of Therapy Animals

Therapy animals are brought into many settings (with consent) such as nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and universities. Here they provide many people with unconditional love, a furry hug, and some much-needed stress relief.

Even though dogs are traditionally the most commonly used animal in the therapy world, other species are on the rise for this kind of important work. These include;

  • – Cats – Although they may not be as “transportable” as the canine species, some nursing homes have made the feline species a permanent part of their elderly care regime. The nursing home resident feline will take it upon himself to weave in and out of the patient’s rooms and perhaps, if the mood strikes, may even choose to stay for a snooze or a snuggle. A daily visit from a cat can brighten even the darkest of moods.
  • – Equine – Horses are being used to help those individuals with many issues from drug abuse to learning disabilities to rehabilitation. Teaching a person how to trust and interact with a creature of the horse’s magnitude has proven to work in many situations.
  • – Small Pets – Guinea pigs and rabbits are now also being used for therapy work. These small furry animals are easier to manage and can be of great comfort, especially for those individuals that may be fearful of dogs and/or cats.

therapy cat

Do I need an Emotional Support Dog or a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs do wonderful work for many people; however, if you are in the need of more one-on-one furry therapy, the ESA (emotional support animal) may be the way to go.

An ESA can be of any species and does not need to be specifically trained. This animal is there to purely provide the person with emotional/mental support.

When you have been granted the right to an ESA (via a treatment plan from a mental health professional) you will be given access to “no pets” policy housing and your ESA will be allowed into the cabin of an airplane. These rights have been made possible by the Federal Fair Housing Amendments and Air Carrier Access Acts.

In order to qualify for an Emotional Support Animal, you will need an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional. Here is a link to a post on how to get an emotional support animal letter.

What is the difference between a Service Dog and a Therapy Dog?

If you require more assistance in your daily living, then you could be eligible for a service dog. This type of animal has specific training to do a task for you that you cannot do for yourself. This can include being your eyes or ears, picking up dropped items, retrieving medications, “calling” emergency services and even alerting you to a drop in your blood sugars or of an oncoming seizure.

Service dogs help many disabled individuals live a normal independent life that may not be otherwise possible. In addition, they are also given full access to all public places. You may learn more about service dog laws here

How Do I Register My Therapy Dog?

Do you think you and your pet would make a good therapy team? Since therapy animals need to be invited in, having an identification card and vest is recommended. Not everyone you encounter in the hospital or school will know you are invited in and clear identification helps avoid any conflict.

Registering your dog for therapy work is a convenient way to avoid any hassle you may encounter from some individuals. In addition, you will be given an ID badge, certificate and a therapy vest for your dog which will further identify you and your canine companion as a pet therapy team.

therapy dog certification

Do I need a special letter for my Therapy Dog?

Since therapy dogs/animals are invited in, you don’t need a special letter as you would for an ESA. However, therapy dogs do not have any special rights or privileges beyond the buildings and areas of those buildings that have been designated for therapy dogs.

Therapy, ESA and Service Work, is For the Dogs

Whether your dog is a therapy dog, an emotional support animal or a service canine, the work these animals do is vital in the lives of many people. Know the difference so you can better equip yourself or a loved one with the help needed to live a life of unconditional love, freedom, and independence.


  1. Tonya White says: February 20, 2019
  2. andrea irvine says: February 21, 2019
  3. Crystal Boisvert says: October 7, 2019

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