How To Train A Therapy Dog? A Basic Guide To Get Started

There are many ways that people with mental or physical illnesses seek treatment. Taking certain medications and seeing a psychologist are a couple of options. However, one of the unique therapies is a type of trained canine – therapy dogs.

Therapy dogs are trained to work with individuals and larger hospital or school groups. They use their training to remain calm in all different kinds of sessions, allowing them to comfort and support people with various mental and physical illnesses. 

There are many steps to take if you’re training a therapy dog properly. This guide is here to help you learn all the different steps to getting started with your own dog training.

Why It’s Important To Train A Therapy Dog?

Unlike emotional support animals, therapy dogs require a high level of training to do their job officially. This is because a well-trained animal can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and ease pain management. Without proper teaching, the animal won’t meet the demands of the job.

Your animal will also be allowed to go to more places with their proper certification. Therapy animals are allowed in places like hospitals and schools to do their job. They won’t be officially recognized without this special training.

How To Know If Your Dog Makes A Great Therapy Dog?

The training of a therapy dog is different from the more intense training of something like service dogs or medical assistance animals. Service dogs need to be able to carry out many different tasks while for therapeutic needs your pup needs to have impeccable behavior and patience. 

Any breed could potentially make a great therapy dog. What matters is that they remain calm around different people and other animals. You must look at your pup objectively and ask the following questions to make sure they’re a good fit for therapy work:

  • Are they cooperative and follow instructions?
  • Are they patient and at-ease in stressful situations?
  • Do they enjoy human contact and petting?

They should also reach the Canine Good Citizen standards from the American Kennel Club. Many organizations require this certification. It determines whether or not your animal is obedient enough for the job. If your pet can sit, stay, and “leave it,” well, they’ll most likely pass the test with flying colors.

The test also requires that your dog be an adult. Puppies are often too bouncy and not developed enough in any training to become a proper therapy dog. As long as your animal is the right age and has the necessary obedience skills, any breed or size will do.

How To Train A Therapy Dog: A Basic Guide

1) Expose Your Pet to Many Different Situations

To become a proper therapy dog, you have to make sure they can handle being around different people, places, and things. If they haven’t gotten out of the house besides their daily walks, you should take them out more and observe how they interact with others. Any change in voice, clothes, or facial hair can make a dog uneasy. Ensure that your animal can handle these situations without being shy or overly aggressive.

The best way to do this is to make sure your pet gets their socialization as early as possible. Puppies are the easiest to teach because they will carry their good behavior through their entire lives. However, if you have an adult animal already, it’s not too late! You just may have to work on unlearning certain behaviors before new habits can form.

2) The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test

As we mentioned before, the Canine Good Citizen test is an assessment which many organizations require before you can receive a therapy or service dog license. This assessment tests their obedience level. If you can pass this test, you can rest assured that they have the proper temperament for therapy work.

You can teach your animal yourself or attend professional classes to help you work towards the CGC test. Basic obedience tasks like “four on floor,” loose leash, and “watch me” are a few examples of the techniques your future therapy dog will learn. They should also learn not to bark or jump on people or objects.

3) Enroll in a Therapy Dog Class

A therapy dog class is just what you think it is – a class designed to help prepare your animal for their therapy visits. Though teaching your pup yourself is convenient, getting help from a professional can be just the thing your dog needs to reach that next step. Many of these classes even end in certification, so you receive two positive outcomes for the price of one!

People undergoing therapy in hospitals and schools will often want to brush the dogs or feed them treats for completing tasks and tricks. Many classes emulate this, so you will want to make sure your animal can be brushed calmly. Receiving treats for tricks will also positively reinforce the behavior, so they’ll enjoy therapy sessions more, as well.

4) Receive Your Certification!

The last step is to get your certification. Once you’ve passed the CGC test, you can apply for your certificate. These will often require another test to make sure your pet is meeting the proper learning benchmarks.

However, this isn’t the end of you and your dog’s training. It’s now your responsibility to make sure your animal maintains its composure throughout their career. Take what you’ve learned from the assessments and classes you take, apply it to your daily schedule, and your pet will get better and better every day on the job.


Training, especially for therapy dogs, requires a lot of effort from the trainer and the dog. However, canines love to help people! As long as your pup is passionate enough and follows these few steps, your pet should earn their certification in no time.

To learn more about dog therapy and training, contact a real professional company like ESA Registration. We’re here to answer questions and help properly register your animal every step of the way!