How to Register your Dog to Become a Therapy Dog


If you’re anything like me, there are some days that you can’t imagine getting through without your dog. The type of emotional connection and support dogs can give you wordlessly can’t be matched.

That’s why therapy dogs can be so effective in so many settings, like hospitals, childcare centers, and disaster areas. When I was in college, we had a group of therapy dogs come during finals week and I always stopped by. Nothing will make your troubles melt away faster than a few doggie kisses! But did you know that you can volunteer with your dog as a therapy dog? You can take them for a while to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. Don’t worry, you aren’t giving them up, think of it as a volunteering opportunity that you can do with your dog!
Therapy dogs are a type of working dog, but there are important distinctions between them and other service animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association breaks them down into four classifications:

  • Assistance Animal
  • Service Animal
  • Emotional Support Animal
  • Therapy Animal

It’s important to note that the same organization asserts that “Animals used in animal-assisted activities (e.g., therapy animals, residential animals) do not have federally protected rights of access” such as service animals.

4 Qualities of a Therapy Dog

If you’re still interested in making your pup into a therapy dog, U.S. Service Animals outlines the four primary qualities they’ll need to take on the important role. Any breed can become a therapy dog, so long as they match the below criteria:




A therapy dog needs to have a good temperament. They should not get angered easily and should not be overly stressed or anxious. The dog also shouldn’t react aggressively when it gets touched, as this is often one of the primary benefits the therapy dog provides. 


Mild to No Shedding

Heavy shedders don’t usually work as therapy dogs. If you have allergies the shedding will become a major problem, and hospital staff have enough to deal with without seeing a trail of dog hair all over the place.






Therapy dogs should be social and friendly, and should not be aloof and distant. A dog that wants nothing to do with humans is unlikely to cheer them up. There is a balance though because some dogs can be too friendly and exhaust or play too rough with patients. 



Therapy dogs have to be flexible. They will often be taken to new environments and deal with different situations. For example, a dog that hates cramped living spaces might not do well when put with a patient in a mobile home. If the dog is unhappy the patient will be too, and that defeats the purpose of having the therapy dog in the first place.




How a Dog becomes a Therapy Dog

Below are the 4 steps that will need to happen in order for a dog to become a therapy dog:



Registering your Dog

If you think your dog has what it takes, you’ve got several options to get started. There’s a handful of reputable, national groups to which you can become a member. Sometimes it depends on your state laws whether the therapy dog has to be registered or not, so you may need to do a bit of Google-fu. The registration process varies, but typically involves undergoing a background check (for you, not the dog!), reviewing the terms and conditions of your membership, in-person testing by an observer/agent from the group and periodic recertification.

The American Kennel Club has a handful of select groups integrated with the AKC Therapy Dog Title, including the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Love on a Leash, and more.

Taking the Test

Once you’ve selected the group, you’ll need to prepare your pup for rigorous testing. If they’re able to pass the tests outlined below, they’ll be prepared for any registration test:

Test 1: Stranger Approach test | The dog must allow a stranger to walk up to and interact with the handler without making sounds.

Test 2: Pet test | Your pup should be able to sit and receive pets without getting aggressive or overly excited. 

Test 3: Grooming test | Your dog should allow humans to expect their ears and feet, as a vet or groomer might do. 

Test 4: Walk test | An evaluator will watch you or the dog’s handler walk them on a loose leash to test the pooch’s leash manners.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd test | Your dog will walk through a group of at least 3 people to assess their reaction of walking through busy places.

Test 6: Stay put test | Your dog will need to be able to sit and lie down on command. Also, be able to stay in one spot when you leave a room. 

Test 7: Recall test | Your dog will need to come back to you when called. Usually, this is done when they are on a leash around 10 feet away.

Test 8: Dog Reaction test | You’ll walk with your dog on a leash up to another handler with their dog on a leash. You should be able to talk with the handler without your dog reacting to the other dog aggressively or fearfully (it shouldn’t try to play with the dog either).

Test 9: Distraction test | The evaluator will choose at least 2 distractions (a dropping chair, a loud noise, a toy, a piece of food on the floor, etc.) and observe the dog’s reaction.

Test 10: Separation test | You and your dog will be separated for a few minutes (you’ll leave them with the handler). While you’ll often be nearby your dog may need to be with someone else for a little while. 




Step three+ | Ongoing training and appearance opportunities

Now that you’ve adopted, trained and registered your therapy animal, your work isn’t over. Just like owning any kind of dog, really, you’ve got a lifetime of training and care ahead of you. All dogs will need to eventually be recertified, and every time you bring your animal to an event or around many people, you’re always responsible for ensuring everyone’s safety and comfort.

When your animal is ready, there’s many opportunities to take them out and spread the love Wag! assembled a list of some of these activities like therapy dog events with local universities and children’s reading events at a library.

The most important step of all though—show your dog some appreciation. The benefits of animal-assisted therapy are significant, and you wouldn’t be considering taking this leap if you didn’t understand how incredible dogs can be at making our days brighter and our lives better. 

Is your dog registered as a therapy dog? Or have you met a therapy dog? Share your stories below!

  • Be the first to post a comment.
  • beagle