How to Certify a Therapy Dog

Aaron Rice Expert Dog Trainer
Written: April 16, 2022

Therapy dogs are extremely important aspects of life for many people. They can provide comfort, companionship, and love for those who may strongly need it. Therapy dogs can provide this love and comfort to children, those suffering from illnesses, hospital patients, the elderly in care facilities, and so many more places that these therapy dogs can be beneficial. Therapy dogs do need to be certified, though. This article will give you a little bit of background so you can hopefully understand therapy dogs a little bit more. It will also teach you how to go about having a dog certified to become a therapy dog as well as the training process that occurs before certification.

Therapy Dog Versus Service Dog

Many people accidentally tend to confuse therapy dogs with service dogs. While both types of dogs do benefit humans, they are actually very different in what they do for the humans around them. While both are certified, they serve very different purposes.

Therapy dogs are trained and certified to provide therapy (either physiological or psychological) to many different people. They are encouraged to be friendly, loving, and interact with almost all of the people around them. They are taken to locations where the people there might be down or in need of a happiness boost, a smile, a little bit of love, or even a moment of companionship. There is often no better way to achieve this than with the assistance of a friendly, loving, happy pooch. Therapy dogs are most commonly taken to and used in settings such as schools, hospice care centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, elderly care homes, and places similar to any of these. Their owners are not the only ones that they are encouraged to interact with and use their therapy skills with, quite the opposite actually.

Service dogs vastly differ from therapy dogs. Service dogs’ skills are specifically honed to benefit their handler or owner. They are extensively trained in how to best serve their owner and encouraged not to interact with others while “working.” They are most commonly used to assist with disabilities or health problems that face their owner or handler. These dogs can help their owners to be more independent as well as safer in everyday life. They are also not meant to be petted by others as this could derail their training or distract them from helping their owner in a time of need. Service dogs are also allowed pretty much anywhere you can imagine, including restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and other places that do not typically allow pets to enter.

While therapy dogs and service dogs are both used to help people, you can tell that they are used very differently. Service dogs are more reserved, highly trained, and used for specific health or disability assistance with their owner or handler. Therapy dogs are required to be happy, friendly, and loving to all people who might need a little bit of happiness thrown their way.

Demeanor and Personality

There are several personality traits that make a particular dog the ideal candidate to be a therapy dog. Some of these traits include patience, happiness, friendliness, calmness, and willingness to love many different people. Intelligence is also an important factor in determining whether a dog would be a good candidate to become a therapy dog. It is also extremely important that a therapy dog be receptive to many people touching, scratching, and petting them as this is typically a very common occurrence for therapy dogs visiting various facilities or locations.

It might be wondered if there are certain breeds of dogs that are more inclined or better fit to become therapy dogs. The answer to this is kind of both a yes and a no at the same time. Of course, breeds of dogs that are usually friendlier, happier, and best with people typically make ideal candidates to become therapy dogs. At the same time, there might be a specific dog from breeds that are typically considered to be a little more stand-offish that absolutely love and adore people, letting them pet them and both giving and receiving attention. All in all, it truly depends on the specific dog and its overall personality, demeanor, and temperament. A few breeds of dogs that have typically been used widely as therapy dogs include Golden Retrievers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Beagles, Dachshunds, French Bulldogs, Labrador Retrievers, Pugs, Corgis, and Poodles. Again, though, please keep in mind that it all depends on the specific, individual dog in question on whether they would make a good therapy dog or not. It is also important to note that a therapy dog should have already reached adulthood, and not still be in a puppy stage of life.


The first step in training an adult dog to be a therapy dog is to make sure that a dog possesses the qualities needed in order to be a good service dog. If the dog does not meet the desired characteristics, it is best to not pursue the possibility of them becoming a service dog. However, if they do possess the qualities needed in a service dog, then it is great to begin the next steps in having them certified as a therapy dog so that they can begin visiting and helping people when they can.

The next step in training an adult dog to be a therapy dog is to socialize them as much as possible. It is extremely important to introduce them to many new people, places, things, and situations. This allows the dog to become as comfortable around as many new people, places, and situations as possible. Therefore, they will not have anxiety or experience any nervousness or distress when faced with the many places where they might utilize their talent as a therapy dog. Make sure the dog shows interest in calming, soothing, and providing comfort to others in these types of situations. This can be demonstrated by their willingness to play with others, their openness to being petted by many people, whether they seem happy in the situation, and if they exercise extreme patience with others in these types of situations.

It is also very important to make sure that the dog is socialized well in a group setting or situation. As a therapy dog, a dog might face visits or sessions where many people are with them at once that want to pet or touch them. If they are used to this type of situation in advance, they will most likely not become overwhelmed with the volume of people or the attention that they are receiving all at one time.


Once a therapy dog has been sufficiently trained and socialized well in many different settings, it can be registered and certified as a therapy dog. There are actually many organizations that are able to provide certificates for therapy dogs. With a little research, an owner can find the one best suited to them and their needs in becoming a certified therapy dog. Some organizations offering certification do have more strenuous requirements to be certified than do other organizations. Many organizations offer training as well as a certification test at the end of training where they will be issued a certificate and can be considered a therapy dog moving forward. A few organizations that offer therapy dog certification include Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs Incorporated, and Therapy Dogs International. It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list and there are other organizations available that are able to provide therapy dog certification as well. Therapy dog identification cards are typically issued once training and certification have taken place. The owner can keep these for their records.


Overall, it is not extremely difficult to have a dog certified to become a therapy dog. The most important aspect of the process is ensuring that any dog being considered to become a therapy dog has the correct personality and temperament for it. It is very important that potential therapy dogs are wholly kind, happy pooches that showcase a willingness and desire to be around people, receive a great deal of attention, and exercise patience when many people want to pet, touch or scratch them. After that, it is a matter of training and socializing them correctly to best prepare them for the situations and environments that they might enter into when they are acting as therapy dogs. After training has occurred, the final step is to have them certified by one of many organizations that are able to certify dogs as therapy dogs. Once they have been trained and certified, the dog is ready to begin their career as a loving therapy dog. They can then visit many different places and people while spreading love, kindness, and happiness for those there that might truly be in need of that sunshine and light brought into their lives by a friendly, happy pooch.