How To Choose a Therapy Dog: A Basic Guide

No doubt, humans can create extremely powerful bonds with their canines. Today, therapy animals are incredibly popular as they can provide a great sense of comfort for their owners. While numerous qualities make up the perfect dog for therapy, the most important are patience, calmness, and confidence. 

Training a puppy to be a therapy dog isn’t easy. That said, it can be one of the most rewarding decisions you make in life. There’s something about non-judgemental characteristics in pooches that can alleviate stress and anxiety for both children and adults. 

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to consider when choosing a breed of therapy dog. We’ll touch on important points like breeds, temperament, trainability, and more. 

What Are Therapy Dogs?

A therapy dog is a puppy that visits various settings with its owner to provide comfort for those dealing with a traumatic experience. You may find therapy animals at schools, retirement communities, hospitals, or at the site of natural disasters. No matter who they’re interacting with, the dog’s responsibility is to provide comfort, support, and improve the lives of those around them, just by being their cuddly and happy selves. 

Be aware that therapy dogs are different from service dogs. A service dog has specialized training to assist people with disabilities. One example of a service dog is a puppy that assists a blind person while they walk around to protect them from harm. Service dogs tend to stay with one person and are trained to help a unique type of disability. 

What Are the Benefits of Using Dogs for Therapy?

There are several benefits of therapy dogs to help those in need. Not only can interacting with a dog lower blood pressure, but it can also potentially alleviate physical pain. What’s more, dogs can also help boost a person’s self-esteem and make people more prone to interact with others. Finally, a comforting canine can alleviate stress and anxiety, which is extremely prevalent in classrooms and hospitals. 

According to 4 Paws For Ability, therapy dogs can also help children with autism in the classroom. Canines have a special ability to bring people together, which encourages kids with autism to interact more with students and adults. 

What Breeds Make the Best Therapy Dogs?

There aren’t any breed limitations to becoming a therapy dog, but there are some standards that need to be met. 

A puppy typically needs to have a certain level of obedience and optimal health to fill the role. One of the primary factors that determine a dog’s ability to work in therapy is temperament. As a result, some pups may naturally have the calm demeanor necessary to be a dog for therapy. 

Such breeds include:

  • German Shepherds
  • Corgis
  • French Bulldogs
  • Greyhounds
  • Beagles
  • Pugs
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Poodles
  • Border Collies

Temperament Testing

In essence, an animal’s temperament is its nature. Temperament can permanently determine how a dog will act and how its behavior will be in any given scenario. Temperament is slightly different from personality. Some dogs can have an amazing personality when they’re with their owner, but their temperament may cause them to be highly energized or vocal around new people. 

Humans also have temperaments. The best way to think of temperament is through newborn babies. You may notice that some children are naturally calmer than others, while some are always full of energy. We tend to carry these characteristics into our adult lives and this is our temperament.

Temperament is extremely vital when choosing a therapy dog, as it will determine whether they’re suitable for the job. No matter how much training you do, your dog can’t become a therapy dog if it doesn’t have the right temperament. 

So, the first step toward choosing a suitable dog is temperament testing. While there are several temperament tests available, it may be best to consult with a professional before selecting a puppy for therapy. If you don’t have access to a pro, consider the following factors before choosing your puppy:


As you can probably guess, a dog that likes to bite isn’t suitable for working in therapy. Bite inhibition is one of the first qualities that therapy dog trainers look for when considering a puppy for therapy. A dog’s ability to control its urge to bite or use its teeth safely when interacting with humans and other animals is a prerequisite for the role. It’s always best to start training bite inhibition at a young age. 


A little vocalizing is okay, but therapy animals are typically supposed to be quiet. The reason therapy dogs have to be quiet is that too much noise may increase the stress and anxiety around the people they’re trying to comfort. If you notice your puppy is extremely vocal, they may not be cut out to work in therapy. 

Sociability and Confidence 

It may seem apparent since the job requires working with people, but a puppy should be confident and have good social skills. Some dogs are fearful and timid by nature, so they probably wouldn’t be the right fit for the position. You want to look for a puppy that likes to interact with people and isn’t skittish around strangers. 

Always Know Where Your Puppy Comes From

Another important factor to consider when choosing a dog for therapy is knowing about the previous owners. Does your puppy come from a breeder or a rescue? Do the previous owners have any experience training therapy dogs? If your puppy comes from a breeder, do they have a lot of repeat customers? These are the kinds of questions you want to ask yourself before choosing a puppy.

While each has its own advantages and disadvantages, dogs that come from a breeder or a rescue both have the potential for becoming a therapy dog. 

Here are some things to consider if you’re selecting a puppy from a breeder:

How Much Experience Does the Breeder Have?

If you’re going the breeder route, you must have some knowledge about how long they’ve been in business. Surely a dog breeder with decades of experience will have more ideal puppies than those that are just starting. However, that doesn’t mean you have to write off new breeders automatically. Just make sure the breeder has enough experience to increase your chances of finding a good candidate. 

Does the Breeder Have Information About the Puppy’s Parents?

Like humans, dogs inherit traits from their parents. If the dog’s parents have a temperament that may not be suitable for therapy, it’s highly likely the puppy will too. So, make sure to check with the breeder to get as much information about the puppy’s parents to make a more informed decision. 

Learn More with ESA Registration of America

Selecting a puppy for therapy certainly isn’t easy as there are numerous factors to consider. However, as long as you focus on temperament testing and learning everything you need to know about the breeder or rescue center, you should be well on your way toward making the right decision. 

If you’re looking for more information about registering or evaluating your puppy to become a therapy dog, the ESA Registration of America has numerous resources at your disposal. For any further questions, feel free to check out our FAQ page or contact one of our professionals.