How to Train Your Dog to Be a Therapy Canine Companion

Therapy companion dogs must be comfortable being handled by strangers.
Owner playing with puppy image by Elliot Westacott from

Therapy dog are specifically chosen and trained to provide companionship and entertainment for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, military convalescent centers, mental health institutions and private homes, and other venues. As visiting canine companions, therapy dogs act to reduce stress and provide diversion during a difficult time. Canine therapy companions must be temperamentally suited for this special work. They are carefully chosen for their calmness, adaptability, friendliness and obedience. Therapy dogs go through careful training to ensure they are able to handle the many types of situations they will encounter in their work with patients and their families.

Step 1

Join a basic obedience training group as soon as your dog is of the appropriate age. These classes generally start when puppies are about 7 months old. The instructor will assist you in teaching your dog simple commands like “sit,” “stay,” “down,” “wait,” “drop it” and other useful, every-day commands. Most classes use positive enforcement such as lavish praise, petting and treats to reward successful performance. When you've become comfortable in your basic obedience regimen, enlist a friend to provide distractions while you train the dog. It is critical that therapy dogs be reliable in their obedience training, even when distractions are present.

Step 2

Practice the commands daily to reinforce the training. Use everyday activities to practice commands. Praise vocally and give treats. As the dog’s responses become more successful, reduce the number of treats and continue to use praise as his reward.

Step 3

Take the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen Test. This test examines a dog’s readiness for therapy work. The examiner will approach you and the dog, ask you to give your dog commands and have you play with the dog. The animal should calm quickly even after stimulating play. The test will expose the dog to another animal to see if it reacts calmly. Though this test is not a sure determiner of the dog’s readiness for therapy work, it can tell when a dog is not yet ready, according to the Dogplay website.

Step 4

Take the dog to crowded places where strangers may bump against him or where he may hear unfamiliar noises. This exposure will make to ensure that he can adapt to unfamiliar situations calmly and without nervousness.

Step 5

Take your dog to the veterinarian for a full set of immunizations and full physical exam to ensure that he is ready for therapy work.


  • Any dog that shows signs of fear or anxiety when approached or touched by strangers is not a good candidate for being a therapy dog. If your dog shows these signs, he may not be temperamentally suited for canine therapy companion work.


  • Join a national therapy and service dog group to help you get group insurance in case of accident.

Items You Will Need

  • Leash
  • Collar
  • Treats


Photo Credits

  • Owner playing with puppy image by Elliot Westacott from