Therapy dogs are companions that volunteer with their owners in places like schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. They work together to improve people's lives, whether it's helping a child read or providing comfort to a senior. A therapy dogs main goal is to help improve the emotional, mental, and physical state of other individuals.
It's important to note that therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs. Service dogs are specially trained to assist people with disabilities and have legal access to public places like planes and restaurants. Therapy dogs don't have these privileges, so trying to pass them off as service dogs is unethical.
Type Of Therapy Dogs:
Therapeutic Visitation Dogs
Therapeutic visitation dogs are household pets whose owners take to visit places like hospitals, nursing homes, schools, detention facilities, and rehabilitation facilities. Many of the people in such places must be away from home due to physical or mental illness, detention, or court order. For many of these people, a visit from a therapy dog can go a long way to help lift spirits, ease stress, anxiety, depression, and motivate people by providing affection.
Disaster Relief Dogs
Much like therapeutic visitation dogs, Disaster Relief Dogs and their handlers help bring comfort and consolation to people who have suffered a traumatic or violent experience. Disaster relief dogs have also helped provide solace to victims of terrorist attacks, such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 attacks, and the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, CT.
Facility Therapy Dogs
Facility therapy dogs are canines that primarily live and work in nursing homes. These special types of therapy dogs are often trained to help keep patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other mental illnesses out of trouble. Facility therapy dogs are handled by a trained member of the staff and typically live at the facility.
Animal Assisted Therapy Dogs
Animal-assisted therapy dogs help physical and occupational therapists in meeting goals important to a person’s physical or mental recovery. Animal-assisted therapy dogs typically work in physical rehabilitation facilities and common tasks include helping a patient regain limb motion, fine motor skills and regaining pet care skills for their personal pets.
Reading Therapy Dogs
Reading therapy dogs are pet dogs that accompany their owners/handlers into schools and public libraries where they assist children who struggle with reading. Many children who experience reading difficulties develop self-esteem issues or become self-conscious when reading in front of classmates or parents. The main purpose of a reading therapy dog is to lay beside a child and create a dog-friendly atmosphere that allows students to practice their reading skills in a non-judgmental environment. Reading therapy dogs not only help children feel more comfortable and confident when reading, but they also help students become excited about practicing his or her reading skills.
In order for a dog to be a good candidate to become a therapy dog and receive certification, they should be calm and social with strangers. They should also be able to adjust to loud noises and fast movements. There are certain steps that are needed for a dog to become certified by an organization such as The Good Dog Foundation. They are tested on behaviors such as not jumping up on people and being able to walk on a loose leash. Exact testing/certification requirements differ based on the organization's requirements. Some organizations offer classes such as "distraction-proofing", which strengthens the dog's ability to focus while in stressful situations, in addition to therapy training to help prepare the dog and the dog's owner for future therapy visits.
Types Of Breeds:
Although therapy dogs are not limited to a certain size or breed, common breeds used in therapy dog work  include the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are considered natural therapy dogs since they were bred to be companion dogs. Thus they love meeting new people including children, are very gentle, and are eager to sit on someone's lap for long periods or to simply lay next to them.
Research has proven that animal-assisted therapy can lower blood pressure, reduce medication needs, alleviate anxiety, decrease the stress hormone cortisol all while triggering the release of positive hormones for improved physical health. For mental health, animal-assisted therapy reduces loneliness and depression, decreases aggressive behaviors,  provides mental stimulation, all while providing much needed comfort. 
Do They Need To Wear A Vest?
Just like service animals or emotional support animals, it is not required that they wear a vest; however, it’s heavily encouraged so the people in the visiting facility are aware who you are and why your dog is there. A therapy dog vest may be worn by a dog that has been trained to visit people in group settings or facilities.
Back to Top