How to Certify Dogs for Therapy

A dog must be at least 1 year old for therapy skill testing.
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Therapy dogs are trained canines who assist in human healing processes by providing affection to individuals who are recovering from or enduring injury, illness, disease or emotional trauma. Therapy dogs provide motivation and encouragement to patients. Some therapy dogs are capable of assisting occupational and physical therapists. Training, testing, good health and registration are required for a dog to be certified as a therapy dog.

Confirm Your Dog Has What It Takes

All dog breeds are allowed to apply to become a certified therapy dog. Most therapy dogs are house pets who display characteristics of affection and patience. They must feel comfortable around strangers and adapt well to different surroundings. Some people train and certify dogs for therapy when they're pups, others train mature pets. Golden retrievers are known to be well-suited for working as therapy dogs due to their gentle and kind nature.

Maintain Proof of Good Health

A healthy, happy dog will exude joy. Ensure that you are providing your dog with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. Visit the veterinarian for a checkup, a fecal exam, a heartworm test and vaccinations. Negative results of the fecal and heartworm test is essential. Mandatory vaccinations should include rabies, parvo, distemper and hepititis, and others in some areas. Discuss with the veterinarian that you are seeking to qualify your dog as a therapy dog. Assuming your dog's healthy enough, your veterinarian will provide you a health certification, which is required at most therapy training facilities.

Provide Training and Skill Testing

Training is crucial to certifying your dog as a therapy dog, and it will require your participation in a therapy dog organization. Basic obedience and intermediate obedience training are mandatory, in addition to facility training that consists of walking through a crowd, walking on a loose lead, sitting politely for petting, obeying stay and sit commands, coming when called, being friendly with strangers, reacting properly to distractions and interacting with other dogs. Therapy organizations and groups will provide skill tests based on the training course itinerary. Focus is placed on the reaction of your dog when being presented with different testing scenarios, dogs who react in shy or aggressive manners will not pass the test. Depending on the facility, additional requirements may be required.

Register Your Dog

While some facilities may recommend additional qualifications than others, the most common mandatory requirements are a skill training certificate awarded within three months of applying for registration, and a letter of good health and recommendation from a licensed veterinarian. Registration fees vary per facility, state and country.