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Therapy Dog Certification

What Is a Therapy Dog?

 It’s a special kind of work.

Therapy dogs bring comfort, support and unconditional love to those in stressful situations. This includes hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care, schools/universities and even at disaster sites. Unlike a service dog that is specifically trained to perform tasks for those with physical disabilities, the therapy dog works as a team with its handler visiting those that need it the most.

Therapy Dog Training Requirements 

The therapy dog does not need any specific training, but there are some requirements that must be met. A therapy dog should possess the following qualities;

  • – Friendly
  • – Gentle
  • – At ease with all types of people/children
  • – Enjoys being petted
  • – Calm personality/demeanor

If you are unsure if your dog would make a good therapy dog, we recommend taking them to parties and other social situations to see how they respond is large groups. This will help you determine what areas (if any) you and your dog will need to work on to become therapy-work ready.

therapy dog

Therapy Dog for Depression?

Having a dog may help those that suffer from depression; however, this would fall under the category of an emotional support animal.

The ESA is a dog (or any animal) that brings comfort and unconditional acceptance to an individual suffering from a mental or emotional issue (depression included). Although the effect the animal has on the person is the same (feel good emotions, physical health benefits) the difference is an ESA stays with the person with the medical condition, whereas, a therapy dog has a handler and only visits the patient for a short period-of-time.

People suffering from depression may not get the long-term benefits of a therapy dog as they would an ESA that is there at all times.

A dog can be both an emotional support animal for their handler and a therapy dog when they are supporting others. There is a special distinction as emotional support animals have special access rights. Therapy dogs must be invited in and do not have any legal public access rights. If you want to learn more about ESAs, read this helpful article on Emotional Support Animal Laws.

Other Benefits of a Therapy Dog 

Depression is not the only condition where a therapy dog can help. It has been scientifically proven that spending time with a therapy canine will reduce stress, lower blood pressure and leave the person with a sense of happiness and well-being. A therapy dog can also help;

  • – Decrease stress and anxiety, including that from post-traumatic stress disorder
  • – Decrease loneliness and/or feelings of isolation
  • – Decrease aggressive behaviors
  • – People have an increase in socialization including opportunities for laughter and a sense of happiness and well-being
  • – Increase mental stimulation
  • – Children to focus and have an increase in attention skills, and verbal interactions
  • – Increase self-esteem, and a feeling of acceptance
  • – Enable a patient to further participate in mental and physical therapy
  • – Patients become more involved in group activities; they are more apt to accept social and emotional support
  • – Decrease in cortisol (stress hormone) levels
  • – Increase in the good hormones associated with happiness. These include beta-endorphin, beta-phenylethylamine, dopamine, oxytocin, prolactin and serotonin
  • – Increases the level of fitness by providing the motivation to do so.
  • – Improves motor skills. These include standing balance, wheelchair, and other physical skills
  • – May decrease the need for some medications (ie blood pressure pills etc.)

therapy happy

Therapy Dog Access Rights

Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, therapy dogs do not have any special rights under Federal Law. However, dogs that are used for therapy work can be welcomed in the above-mentioned areas, if there is already permission granted.

Many cities and states have programs that enable the handler and potential therapy dog to join. These programs are put in place to evaluate the dog to ensure it meets the criteria of therapy work (friendly, well behaved, the handler has full control of the dog at all times etc.) Only specially trained service dogs have full public access rights. If you are interested in training your therapy dog into a service dog, you can read more about what qualifies a dog to be a service dog.

Therapy Dog Vest 

Once the dog and handler have been approved by the hospital or school, they may require your therapy dog be clearly identified. If so, you may consider ordering a therapy dog certificate and a vest for your approved therapy dog. This helps people recognize the dog as a therapy animal, reducing the necessity to explain oneself when entering into an approved establishment.

Therapy Dogs Heal 

Therapy dogs help heal and provide comfort to those that are unable to have a dog of their own. These loving animals offer many mental and physical benefits, so much so, that more nursing homes, universities, and hospitals are encouraging their usage.

If you want to get into therapy work, take the first steps today. Once you and your dog are certified, get out there and start spreading the joy and happiness only a dog can bring.




  1. Leon Tebo says: February 7, 2021
  2. Alyssa says: September 3, 2019

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