Skip to content


Therapy pets are known for changing the lives of many people. Just touching an animal has been shown to increase the body's "feel good" endorphins, promote energy, and decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

Pets being trained to become therapy pets.

If you want to volunteer at a hospital, school, or nursing home, note that these organizations are amenable to animal visits. 

Let's discuss what you need to know when considering pet therapy. 

Therapy Pets and Service Animals are Not The Same…

Therapy pets and service animals are different. Service animals are trained to meet a person's needs (deafness, blindness, and other disorders). They are trained for that person and then become their companion. They maintain contact only with the service person to avoid confusion in their training. 

Therapy animals also share this duty to help others. While they don't perform specific tasks as service animals do, they are available to their therapy patients as a tool to bring about change. For example, petting a dog can provide physical and mental stimulation to nursing home residents. The presence of an animal can slow the heart rate and reduce anxiety in children about to undergo dental procedures and other medical procedures. Animals, especially dogs, are empathetic, calm, patient, and love to please people. 

A dog with an old man.

Training for Your Therapy Pet

We'll focus on dogs mainly. They are the most commonly used therapy pet. Several breeds are suitable for therapy because of their temperament, size, and lifestyle. 

For instance, larger dogs may be ideal for patients who need to move and for children. Dogs that require frequent daily walks outside are for more active assignments. Smaller dogs can visit people with limited mobility or are confined to a particular location, like nursing facilities.

A therapy dog in a garden.

Here are some things to consider when training your dog to become a therapy pet.

Training program 

Remember that training a therapy pet takes time, patience, and dedication. Be sure to give your pet plenty of love, attention, and positive reinforcement throughout training.

Training a therapy dog involves more than just teaching them basic commands. Therapy dogs need to be well-behaved, obedient, and able to provide comfort and support to people in various situations. 

Steps to train therapy dogs include: 

1. Begin with basic obedience training. Your dog must adapt to various situations by listening and following your commands to keep the patient safe. You can send your dog to obedience school with a certified dog instructor. They will ensure your dog passes any test. 
5 dogs being trained by a woman.

Basic obedience training is the foundation for teaching your dog essential commands and behaviors that will make them well-behaved and easy to manage. Here are some of the essential commands and behaviors that you should teach your dog during basic obedience training:

  • Sit - This is one of the simplest commands you can teach your dog. It is also handy when you need your dog to stay put for a while.
  • Stay - This command will help your dog remain in one place until you release them. It is especially useful when you need to attend to something without your dog getting in the way.
  • Come - This command is essential for calling your dog back to you. It's useful when you need to keep your dog from running off or getting into something they shouldn't.
  • Heel - This command teaches your dog to walk beside you without pulling on the leash and is essential for walking your dog in public places.
  • Down - This command teaches your dog to lie down on command. It helps get your dog to settle down when you need them to.

These commands are just the basics of obedience training. You can teach your dog other necessary commands and behaviors to make them more obedient and well-behaved. The key is to start with the basics and build from there. Remember to use positive reinforcement and consistency when training your dog to ensure the best results.

Illustrative image of a dog performing commands, such as: lie down, sit...

2. Socializing is necessary to introduce your pet to different people, animals, and environments. This helps them become more confident, well-behaved, and adaptable. Here are some tips: 
  • Start early: It's best to start socializing with your pet when they are young. It will help them form positive associations with different people and situations.
  • Introduce your pet to different people: Invite friends and family over to meet your pet. Encourage them to interact with your pet positively, offering treats and praise.
  • Take your pet on walks: Taking your pet on regular walks will expose them to different sights, sounds, and smells and will help them become more comfortable in different environments.
  • Attend training classes: Training classes are great for teaching them new skills. It will also help them interact with other dogs and people in a controlled environment.
  • Provide positive reinforcement: When your pet behaves well in a social situation, reward them with treats, praise, and affection. This will encourage them to repeat the behavior in the future.
  • Be patient: Socializing takes time and patience. Don't rush the process; allow your pet to go at their own pace.

Following these tips can help your pet become more social and confident, making them happier and healthier. 

Puppy jumping on his owner's leg.

3. Desensitization training is a behavior modification technique that can help dogs overcome their fears or anxiety toward certain situations, objects, or stimuli. The goal of desensitization training is to gradually expose the dog to the feared stimulus in a controlled and safe manner until they are no longer afraid of it.

Here are the basic steps involved in desensitization training for dogs:

  • Identify the feared stimulus - Observe your dog's behavior and identify the stimulus that triggers their fear or anxiety. This could be anything from loud noises, strangers, other dogs, or a specific location.
  • Create a plan - Create a plan for gradually exposing your dog to the feared stimulus in a controlled and safe way. The plan should start with a deficient level of exposure and gradually increase over time.
  • Introduce the stimulus - Introduce the stimulus to your dog at a low level. For example, if your dog fears loud noises, you could start by playing a quiet recording.
  • Reward calm behavior - When your dog is exposed to the stimulus, reward calm behavior with praise or treats. It will help your dog associate the stimulus with positive experiences.
  • Gradually increase exposure - Increase the intensity or duration of exposure gradually, but only as much as your dog can handle without becoming fearful or anxious.
  • Repeat and continue - Repeat the process regularly and gradually increase the exposure level until your dog is comfortable and no longer afraid of the stimulus.

Desensitization training can take time and patience, but it can be very effective in helping dogs overcome their fears or anxiety. It's important to remember that every dog is different, so the training plan should be tailored to your dog's specific needs.

Working with a qualified dog trainer or behaviorist ensures that the training is done safely and effectively.

Anxiety and Over-Reaction from Fear Formula for Dogs

Anxiety and Over-Reaction from Fear Formula for Dogs will help your dog feel calmer and less fearful with fewer stress and fear responses to other pets or people.

4. Positive reinforcement is a highly effective training method for pets, and it involves rewarding your pet for exhibiting good behavior to encourage them to repeat that behavior in the future. Here are some tips for positive reinforcement pet training:
  • Identify the desired behavior: Decide on the behavior you want to train your pet to exhibit, such as sitting or staying.
  • Choose the reward: Select a reward your pet loves, such as treats, verbal praise, or playtime with their favorite toy.
  • Timing is vital: Reward your pet immediately after they exhibit the desired behavior. This helps them understand what they are being rewarded for.
  • Be consistent: Consistency is the key to successful, positive reinforcement training. Make sure to reward your pet every time they exhibit the desired behavior.
  • Gradually reduce rewards: Once your pet has learned the desired behavior, you can gradually reduce the frequency of rewards while giving them occasional rewards to reinforce the behavior.
  • Don't punish: Positive reinforcement training involves rewarding good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. Punishment can be counterproductive and cause your pet to become anxious or fearful.

Positive reinforcement training can create a happy and healthy relationship with your pet based on mutual trust and understanding.

A Dalmatian dog giving the paw.


Find an organization

You can visit your local nursing facility alone, but many places deal with established groups. Partnering with an organization gives you and your pet more opportunities to help patients. Each organization will have its requirements, so check what is needed. 

A therapy dog with his "patient"

A therapy animal organization is a group that provides training and certification for therapy animals and their handlers. It facilitates therapy animal visits to individuals in need, such as those in hospitals, nursing homes, or schools. These organizations ensure that therapy animals and their handlers meet specific behavior, health, and training standards and provide support and guidance throughout their careers.

Some well-known therapy animal organizations in the United States include:

  1. Pet Partners: Pet Partners is the largest therapy animal organization in the United States, with over 10,000 registered therapy animal teams nationwide. Pet Partners provides training and certification for therapy animals and their handlers and facilitates therapy animal visits to needy individuals.
  2. Alliance of Therapy Dogs: The Alliance of Therapy Dogs is a non-profit organization that provides training, registration, and support for therapy animal teams. The organization has over 16,000 registered therapy animal teams in the United States and Canada.
  3. Love on a Leash: Love on a Leash is a non-profit organization that provides therapy animal visits to needy individuals and promotes the human-animal bond through education and community outreach. Love on a Leash has over 2,000 registered therapy animal teams across the United States.
  4. Delta Society: Delta Society is a non-profit organization that provides therapy animal training, certification, and support. Delta Society has over 10,000 registered therapy animal teams across the United States and several other countries.

When considering a therapy animal organization, it's important to research its reputation, policies, and guidelines for therapy animal registration and visits. Consult with your healthcare provider or a reputable therapy animal organization for guidance and support in selecting a therapy animal and organization.

A dog wearing a superman outfit.


To obtain therapy pet certification, you will need to follow these general steps:

Determine which therapy pet organization you would like to certify through. Several organizations provide certification for therapy pets, such as Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs International, and the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

  • Determine eligibility: Each organization has different requirements for pets and handlers. Pets must be well-behaved, up-to-date on vaccinations, and have passed a basic obedience test. Handlers must also meet specific requirements, such as being over a certain age and having no criminal record.
  • Complete training: Once eligibility requirements are met, you must complete the training program offered by your chosen organization. This may include online coursework, in-person training sessions, and supervised visits to healthcare facilities.
  • Pass a certification test: After completing training, you and your pet must pass a certification test to demonstrate your ability to provide therapy to patients.
  • Maintain certification: Once certified, to maintain your certification, you'll need to complete ongoing training, continue education requirements, and keep up with your pet's annual health and temperament evaluations.

It's important to note that therapy pet certification is not required by law, but many healthcare facilities and organizations require certification before allowing therapy pets to visit. Additionally, it's important to remember that not all pets are suitable for therapy work, so consider your pet's temperament and personality before pursuing certification.

American Kennel Club cover with a brown dog on it.

If you have a wonderful pet that you'd like to share with others, training for service in pet therapy is a great way to give back. Training a therapy dog is a significant commitment, requiring patience, dedication, and hard work. But with the proper training and socialization, your dog can bring joy, comfort, and support to people in need. 

Previous article Pet-friendly Halloween: Tips for a safe and fun celebration