How to Train a Therapy Dog

A therapy dog enjoys contact with people.
bouledogue français image by choucashoot from

A therapy dog provides emotional support to people who need it, and typically belongs to a person who brings the dog to visit clients in places such as hospitals and nursing homes. There is no single way of training a therapy dog, but if your dog has stable nerves and loves human contact, and you want her to be certified as a therapy dog, you must provide her with the socialization and the basic obedience training needed to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizenship certification requirements.

Step 1

Start with a dog that is calm and that demonstrates a strong desire to meet and be with people. Dogs that are hyperactive or disinterested in people do not make good therapy dogs, and may cause problems if they are frightened or startled.

Step 2

Train your dog in basic obedience. The best way to do this is to enroll in an obedience class where she will not only learn the commands, but will also be able to interact with other people and dogs in a setting outside her home and immediate neighborhood.

Step 3

Take your dog to many different places and expose her to as many sights and sounds as possible. She should be able to be comfortable in all environments and around people of all kinds, from elderly adults to children. Encourage friendly people you encounter to pet her if you're confident she feels safe and would welcome the attention. Be sure your dog encounters people dressed in many different ways and sees such things as blowing skirts, hats, children on bicycles and people in wheelchairs. Take her frequently to places where there are unusual sights and sounds.

Step 4

Teach your dog the exercises necessary to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test. Organizations in many areas offer classes for this test, though formal training is not required to take the test. The test evaluates how well your dog responds to you, how she behaves around strangers, and how she reacts to unusual or unexpected situations. If your dog cannot pass, she cannot be certified by one of the associations that certifies therapy dogs.

Step 5

Join a therapy dog group, if there is one in your area, and participate in its training exercises. The groups vary in the details of therapy training, but in general the exercises will expose your dog to the unfamiliar sights and sounds of hospitals and nursing homes. Once she is comfortable and reliable in such places, he is ready to work as a therapy dog.


  • A therapy dog must basically love people. Some dogs, no matter how much training they receive, can never be good therapy dogs. If you have such a dog, don’t try to force him to be something he isn’t.


Photo Credits

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