Therapy Dogs


by Cynthia D. Miller

A Brief Description

Therapy teams volunteer at children’s hospitals, veterans’ hospitals, rehabilitation centers, rest homes, convalescent hospitals, and social centers. The dogs offer unconditional love to the patients and residents of such facilities, giving them respite from the difficulties of their lives.

The dogs and the people visited often form special relationships that are important to both of them. The dogs also have a way of bringing previously withdrawn or hard-to-please people out of their shells and showing them they still have the ability to experience love.

If you decide to become a therapy team with your dog, you may want to think up some special way for your dog to entertain people. Tricks such as shaking hands or fetching a tissue from a box when someone sneezes are appropriate and appreciated. One therapy team in New York is very popular because the dog can gently pull people in their wheelchairs.

The rewards of this activity are great. Make sure that your dog fits the criteria described below, and give therapy a try.


Overview of Necessary Equipment

You will need a collar and leash. Bring a brush if your dog is a big shedder.  Therapy dogs may be invited to sit on furniture or beds and you should do your best not to leave hair behind. Bringing treats that people can feed your dog is a nice way to form relationships. Pack whatever you need for your dog’s tricks or special activities. You may want to bring a blanket or towel to wipe off your dog in wet weather, to place on the furniture or bed before your dog gets on it, and to clean up any spills or accidents.


Training Synopsis

Becoming a therapy dog does not require any sort of official training other than general good manners. What may help you get your foot in the door is having a CGC certificate. In fact, some groups require this certification.


Special Considerations

You may need to be registered with one of the many organizations that arrange therapy visits. Being a part of an established entity is good in many ways.  You will have the experience and support of other members and you will have more opportunities for service if you join an organization.

You must be dependable. People often form strong bonds with the visiting dogs. The patients or residents look forward to the visits and usually spring to life when they know dogs have arrived. Your dedication can make a difference in these people’s lives.

Your dog must be clean and well groomed. He should be parasite free and have all his vaccinations. He will get lots of baths (one bath before every visit), so healthy skin is an advantage.

The breed is far less important than your dog’s personality. Your dog must be friendly, calm, affectionate, gentle, well behaved, and loving. He must have an outgoing manner and be able to “read” people-not pushing himself on those who are reserved yet acting like a clown for those who need a lift. He must get along with other dogs and animals (there may be some visiting at the same time), and he must handle large groups with ease and not be afraid of the special equipment required by some patients.


Advice for First-Timers

When just starting out, contact the director of recreation or volunteer services at a place you would like to visit. Set up an appointment to discuss the merits of beginning a therapy program. You’ll probably leave your dog at home for this first meeting.

If your initial call reveals a therapy program already in place, ask if you can join it. Observe a therapy visit without your dog so that you will have a clear idea of what goes on during a visit.


Why You Will Enjoy This Adventure

The relationships that are formed during regular visits are the reason many people commit to therapy visits. The joy that the patients or residents express when a dog enters their rooms is motivational for the handler and creates a special time in the handler’s and dog’s lives.

You can really make a difference in people’s lives by participating in this activity. When your dog has comforted, stimulated, and brightened a person’s day, you will see why people are committed to therapy dog programs.


Sources for Information and Assistance


Alpha Affiliates

103 Washington Street, Suite 362

Morristown, NJ 07960-6813



Delta Society

289 Perimeter Road East

Renton, WA 98055


206-235-1076 fax


Love on a Leash

P.O. Box 6308

Oceanside, CA 92058



P.O. Box 1696

Whitehouse, TX 75791


Therapy Dogs Inc.

P.O. Box 2786

Cheyenne, WY 82003



Therapy Dogs International

719 Darla Lane

Fallbrook, CA 92028-1505



Davis, Kathy Diamond. Therapy Dogs. New York: Howell Book House, 1992.



Therapy Dogs


From Canine Adventures, by Cynthia D. Miller. Copyright © 1999 by Cynthia D. Miller. Excerpted by arrangement with Animalia Publishing, Yuba City California. $22.95. Available in local bookstores or call 888-755-1318 or click here.