Frequently Asked Questions About Therapy Dogs

Who says your furry friend can’t be your therapist too? Dogs are man’s best friend, but they can serve as therapy dogs also!

Dogs have shown to have positive effects on owners, no matter their age. In fact, many dog owners see their dogs as important family members. What makes dogs particularly good for therapy is how they can seemingly pick up their owners’ emotional state and easily read body language. 

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Therapy dogs are pets who can give emotional support. They typically live with people. In some instances, they work at hospitals, nursing or retirement homes, and schools. There is a wide range of conditions that a therapy dog can help and these are: 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 
  • Children with autism 
  • Heart patients 
  • Alzheimer patients 
  • Depression 
  • And more! 

In addition to supporting people with mental health challenges and disorders, therapy dogs are also known to help support emotional well-being. They can provide help through: 

  • Teaching us mindfulness and how to pay attention; 
  • Relieving stress and increase happiness; 
  • Leading us to nature; 
  • Offering empathy and providing emotional support; 
  • Providing comfort; 
  • Providing a sense of purpose; 
  • Promoting socialization; 
  • And decrease loneliness and depression.

Dogs typically go through proper training as they need certification to become therapy dogs. The preparation for these therapy dogs teaches them to be gentle and accept strangers touching them. Any friendly breed of dog can work as a therapy dog as long as they have the right qualities. Some of the most important factors include mannerisms, temperament, and response to sudden stimuli. 

Do note, however, that therapy dogs are different from service dogs. Service dogs are for particular tasks that their owners are incapable of. On the other hand, therapy dogs provide comfort and attention to help a person’s mental health. Anyone can benefit from a therapy dog, whereas service dogs help specific people.

If you’re looking to train or adopt a therapy dog, the following section contains commonly asked questions about training, qualities, and clarifications on this therapy.  

What does a therapy dog do?

Therapy dogs are trained and licensed to serve as healing companions for people with health conditions like PTSD or cancer. Together with their handlers, these therapy dogs go into medical facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and psychiatric institutions. Their primary purpose is to provide support and comfort to struggling patients.

Do Therapy dogs have the same rights as service dogs?

While therapy dogs and service dogs go through similar training and process, therapy dogs are not given the same rights as service dogs. Federal law states that therapy dogs may only be granted access to several permitted institutions. Whereas service dog owners, who are persons with disabilities, are given legal access to any place along with their service dogs.

How do I know if my dog can be a therapy dog?

First of all, you must have an adult dog, as puppies are usually not permitted by organizations. A well-mannered dog is one of the first telltale signs you know your dog can become a therapy dog. He/she should be able to mingle and make contact with people without any problem. It is the dog equivalent of being a people-person.

Other good signs include your dog ignoring other dogs and handling stressful environments such as a busy hospital setting and affectionate, especially children.

Can my therapist make my dog a service dog?

A diagnosis made by a certified mental health practitioner, such as a psychologist or therapist, is vital if an individual wants to have a service dog. Your therapist writes an ESA letter to help you apply and qualify for animal assistance. However, your dog can only be a service dog if he/she has undergone training, which can take years. If not, you may have to get a trained service dog from someone else.

How can I certify my dog as a therapy dog online?

According to medical professionals, there is no certification for therapy dogs online. The only qualification needed for your dog to be a therapy dog is to have an ESA letter from a certified health practitioner. The ESA letter should contain your full name, medical condition, and how it prevents you from performing your daily activities.

How do I train my dog to be a therapy dog?

Preparing a dog to become a therapy is a lengthy but worthwhile process. It is best to start as early as when your dog is a puppy. This allows your dog to have ample time to adjust, adapt, and gain necessary skills. Building trust with your dog is usually the first step taken, then obedience training follows. You can also enroll the dog in an organization that trains therapy dogs.

Can you deny a therapy dog?

As therapy dogs do not hold the same rights as service animals, some places may deny entry or access to a therapy dog. This is stated under federal law that therapy dogs should be treated like regular pets. It is best to ask permission from a place first before bringing in a therapy dog.

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Do emotional support dogs count as service dogs?

Under the ADA, emotional supports do not qualify as service dogs, so the two are not granted the same rights. According to the laws, service dogs are classified as working animals. They can perform tasks for people with disabilities, whether physical or mental. On the other hand, support or therapy dogs are trained pets to provide emotional support. The distinction between the two is clear.

What’s the difference between a service dog and a companion dog?

As previously mentioned, service dogs are trained to perform tasks for their owners. For example, they can remind an individual when it is time to take their medicine or call other people’s attention if their owners get into an accident. Companion dogs are only trained, from their name itself, to provide companionship.

What qualities make a good therapy dog?

Intelligence is one of the top characteristics a dog should possess to make him/her a good therapy dog. With intelligence comes other valuable skills such as not getting sidetracked by non-essential things and adapting. They should also be patient, calm, and friendly with people.

How do I make my dog a therapy pet?

Passing the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test is the first step in making a dog a therapy pet. This is an assessment of a dog’s basic training and skills, including having good manners and communicating well with people and other dogs.

What is the therapy dog test?

The therapy dog test is the Canine Good Citizen Test previously mentioned. This is provided by the American Kennel Club and is made available through various therapy organizations.

Can I take my emotional support dog to stores?

The American Disabilities Act does not classify emotional support dogs as service animals. Hence, they are not allowed in public places such as stores, hotels, and restaurants unless granted permission or access by authorities.

What breeds make good emotional support dogs?

The most popular breed of emotional support dogs is Labrador retrievers. Other dogs such as poodles, saint bernards, and german shepherds also good choices. These dogs are known to be intelligent and caring breeds.

Do service dogs have to go everywhere with you?

The simple answer is yes. Service dogs allow a person with disabilities to function generally in the streets. It is best to have them accompany you at all times, in cases of emergency or not.

Conclusion

The companionship of a dog is irreplaceable. It’s less complicated and more stable than human companionship, and they can be there for you 24/7. A dog’s presence can help us recover from emotionally taxing situations and life stresses. In some cases, therapy dogs can succeed where medical treatments can’t.

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Now that you know the key differences between therapy and service dogs, as well as other information, here are your next steps in getting a therapy dog: 

Look at your specific needs and what you hope to achieve. It is important to determine whether you need your dog to do particular tasks or merely provide support and companionship. 

If you plan to adopt a dog, make sure you do the research. Certain breeds are a better fit for this job. But, what’s more, important is their personality, behavior, and temperament. 

While dogs can become therapy animals at any age, puppies are easier to train. Meanwhile, older dogs can be just as loving and sweet as the younger ones. 

Once you have a dog, you can start the training immediately. We recommend finding a professional dog trainer for this to help you save time. In general, your therapy dog needs to exhibit certain qualities and behaviors. They should not be easily excitable nor too shy. Important traits include obedience, unaggressive, gentle, relaxed, and not easily startled. 

Once your dog is ready, it must be registered by a certified organization and pass a test. The American Kennel Club (AKC) also recommends that dogs pass the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test before the therapy dog registration. 

You will also need a mental health practitioner certification for everyday situations like travel and official business. 

You’re all set! Congratulations on taking this action step towards better mental health and well-being. 

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