Last Updated on May 12, 2021 by Pauline G. Carter
Therapy dogs, emotional support dogs, and service dogs are three entirely different types of trained animals, but they all serve a common purpose: making life for those they visit and help easier.
These working dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but regardless, they all require specific training to fulfill their role properly.
Therapy pets generally necessitate the least amount of training; usually, they are primarily trained by one person before being brought to locations to work, such as a hospital or a nursing home.
If you’re interested in training your own dog to be a therapy dog, whether for others or your own purposes, you might consider enlisting the help or advice of a mental health professional like those at MyTherapist.
Being well-equipped with knowledge and specific techniques to utilize makes training and working easier for both you and your dog.
Why own a therapy dog?
Although they can’t “heal” or cure people, therapy dogs are certainly capable of making them feel better, which can sometimes be the first step toward recovery.
Therapy dogs offer emotional support, which is a vital part of managing mental and physical health symptoms. They also provide a sense of companionship that some individuals might desperately need.
Typically, individuals or families own therapy dogs and allow them to visit specific locations, like hospitals, in their owner’s free time. Sometimes, though, hospitals, nursing homes, and other similar facilities employ full-time therapy dog handlers to make rounds in specific wards.
If you enjoy helping others and spending time around animals, then owning a therapy dog might be the perfect venture for you!
I want a therapy dog! What’s next?
The first step to owning a therapy dog is adopting and paying for your dog, which can a more significant investment than many people would first imagine.
A trained therapy dog could set someone back over $50,000 on the high end of the spectrum. On the lower end, you might expect to pay around $20,000.
Though these numbers seem alarming, they come with good reason; these estimates consider the cost of the adoption itself on top of alternative expenses.
Choosing a Breed
The breed of dog doesn’t matter in terms of efficacy for therapy dogs; all that matters is they’re capable of calming you down and providing you a sense of comfort.
Some common breeds of therapy dogs are:
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- German Shepherds
Although big dogs tend to come off as more cuddly and practical, small dogs can be just as effective and perhaps even easier to manage.
If you’re inexperienced with training dogs, it might be best to hire a certified trainer for your therapy dog.
Trainers are likely to be familiar with specific behaviors, tricks, or elements of a dog’s routine that might be important. You can also gain valuable insight about how to best communicate with and reward your dog while working with a professional.
Many websites and organizations offer lists of certified trainers who will help your dog with their certification, so be sure to take advantage of the resources available to you.
Be sure to search for your specific area, however, as most training programs are region-specific!
However, many people learn how to train themselves. If you have the time and the interest, training therapy pets can become a fantastic, fun, and helpful hobby.
The qualities that make a great therapy pet are:
- The animal is very friendly with strangers and not afraid of anyone.
- The animal is trained in basic obedience and, without fail, obeys commands like “come”, “sit”, and “lie down”.
- The animal is very healthy, clean, and fully vaccinated.
- The animal is not easily stressed by any stimuli, but instead is relaxed and comfortable in all environments. This includes not barking, not running, and not hiding or becoming aggressive.
But what about that cost?
If finances are a concern for you, it’s important to remember that professional trainers can be expensive.
This is especially true when you combine the cost with the fees that already come with owning a dog–therapy dog or no.
Your first thought might be to check to see if your insurance would cover the training needed, but that won’t be the case, unfortunately. As of now, most forms of insurance will not cover the cost of a therapy dog despite their importance.
There are options to make things more accessible, though. It’s possible to receive funding through various grant/funding programs, particularly those designed specifically to support those who own therapy dogs.
A great way to save money is to train your dog yourself. If you do decide to train your dog, it’s essential that you educate yourself on what skills are important and how to ensure your dog consistently performs well.
Because the training necessary for therapy dogs is not intensive (it primarily centers on making sure the dog can go into public without losing focus), many people choose to go this route.
Once you begin training and see consistent results, you can move onto training specifically for the Canine Good Citizen certification, or the CGC.
This test won’t certify your dog, but this certification is often necessary to move on to the next step. The test contains commands and behaviors that are helpful for therapy dogs and humans alike.
Once you’ve completed the steps above, you can register your dog for a therapy dog certification course, after which you can begin to enrich people’s lives.
Can’t afford to purchase a new dog?
The most wallet-conscious option out there is certifying a pet that someone already owns and cares for.
While not super likely, your dog (or someone else’s dog) may be already fully capable of passing the test needed for certification with little to no outside help.
If that is the case, then all you need to do is have them take the examination, and they will be certified! In fact, some therapy dog evaluation programs allow owners to skip the aforementioned CGC altogether.
Purchasing and training a therapy dog is a nuanced process, so it’s vital that you enter it as an educated and patient pet owner.
No matter what choice you make, it’s always worthwhile to make an effort to improve the lives of others or even your own life. Our four-legged best friends are perhaps one of the best and easiest ways to do so.