How to Train Your Dog to Be a Therapy Dog

How to Train Your Dog

How to Train Your Dog


Therapy dogs play a crucial role in providing comfort, support, and companionship to people in various settings such as hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. These well-trained dogs have the ability to bring joy and therapeutic benefits to individuals who are in need. If you have a friendly and well-behaved dog, you can train them to become a therapy dog and make a positive impact in your community. Here are the steps to guide you through the training process:

1. Assess Your Dog's Temperament

Not all dogs are suitable for therapy work. It is essential to assess your dog's temperament to determine if they have the right qualities for therapy dog training. Therapy dogs should be calm, friendly, sociable, and comfortable around different people and environments. They should enjoy interacting with strangers and remain calm in potentially stressful situations.

2. Basic Obedience Training

Before starting therapy dog training, ensure that your dog has a solid foundation of basic obedience commands. This includes commands such as sit, stay, down, come, and walking on a loose leash. Basic obedience training establishes a line of communication between you and your dog, making further training much easier.

3. Socialize Your Dog

Socialization is a crucial aspect of therapy dog training. Expose your dog to various social situations to help them become comfortable and well-adjusted in different environments. Introduce them to different people, places, sights, sounds, and smells. This exposure will help them stay calm and focused during therapy visits, as they will encounter new and potentially distracting stimuli.

4. Prepare for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test

The Canine Good Citizen test evaluates a dog's behavior and obedience in different situations. Enroll your dog in a CGC training program or work with a professional trainer to prepare for the test. The CGC certification is often a prerequisite for therapy dog training programs and demonstrates that your dog has good manners and is well-behaved in public.

5. Enroll in a Therapy Dog Training Program

To ensure that your dog receives specialized training for therapy work, it is beneficial to enroll in a therapy dog training program or class. These programs focus on preparing dogs for the unique challenges and responsibilities of therapy work. They will teach you and your dog the necessary skills, protocols, and behaviors required in therapy settings.

6. Exposure to Therapy Environments

Expose your dog to the types of environments they will encounter during therapy visits. Gradually introduce them to hospitals, schools, nursing homes, or any other relevant facilities. Practice walking calmly through corridors, meeting different people, and being around medical equipment or other distractions. This exposure will help your dog acclimate to the sights, sounds, and smells they may encounter during therapy visits.

7. Practice Specific Therapy Skills

Depending on the specific therapy work your dog will be involved in, practice skills that are relevant to those settings. This may include gentle interactions with individuals, being touched or petted by strangers, sitting or lying quietly for extended periods, and following cues from the handler. Practice these skills in a controlled environment before applying them during actual therapy visits.

8. Volunteer at Local Facilities

Once your dog is ready, reach out to local hospitals, nursing homes, schools, or other facilities that allow therapy dog visits. Start with shorter visits to help your dog adjust to the new environment and gradually increase the duration of visits. Observe and follow all rules and regulations of the facility, respecting the privacy and comfort of the individuals you are visiting.

9. Maintain Training and Evaluations

Training should be an ongoing process for therapy dogs. Even after they become certified therapy dogs, it is important to continue training and reinforcing their skills. Participate in regular evaluations to ensure that your dog's behavior remains suitable for therapy work. This will help ensure that your dog continues to provide a positive and safe experience for those they interact with.

10. Enjoy the Journey

Training your dog to become a therapy dog is a rewarding experience for both of you. Enjoy the journey and the positive impact your dog will have on the lives of others. Celebrate the milestones and successes along the way, and remember that the time and effort invested in training will lead to a fulfilling and meaningful partnership with your therapy dog.


Training your dog to be a therapy dog is a rewarding and impactful journey. By assessing temperament, providing obedience training, and socializing your dog, you can prepare them for therapy work. Obtaining the Canine Good Citizen certification and enrolling in a therapy dog training program will further enhance their skills. Volunteering at local facilities allows your dog to bring comfort and support to those in need. Through continued training and evaluations, you can ensure their behavior remains suitable for therapy work. The bond you develop with your therapy dog is truly special as you witness the positive impact they have on others. Embrace the journey, be patient, and cherish the moments of connection and joy. Together, you and your therapy dog can make a lasting difference in your community, bringing smiles and healing to those who need it most.

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