15 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Training A Therapy Dog

Whether you’ve got a few months’ experience as a dog trainer or are just getting started, it’s always good to know what pitfalls can trip you up along the way. 

In that spirit, here are 15 common mistakes I’ve seen people make when training their therapy dogs:

BIGGEST Dog Training MISTAKES and how to AVOID them!
Key Takeaways
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Training a Therapy Dog
– Socialization is crucial for therapy dog training success
– Positive reinforcement is an effective training technique
– Consistency in training is crucial
– Avoid using punishment or negative reinforcement
– Seek professional guidance if needed

Not Waiting Until Your Dog Is Ready

There are a lot of reasons why a dog may not be ready to take training seriously. But if you don’t feel ready yourself, it’s going to show in your dog’s performance and attitude.

You need to be emotionally, mentally and physically prepared for the training process. You also need to have the finances available and enough free time in your schedule for this kind of commitment.

If any of these areas aren’t on point yet, take some time to get them there before moving forward with your training program.

Are you considering training your furry friend to become a therapy dog? Our ultimate guide to training your therapy dog will provide you with all of the information you need to get started, including tips on socialization, positive reinforcement, and specialized training techniques.

Moving To The Next Step Too Quickly

A common mistake that many people make when training their therapy dog is moving to the next step too quickly. Even if you have taken all of your classes, it’s important to spend time at each level mastering the skills before moving on. 

This ensures that you’re giving your dog proper training and allowing them to develop at their own pace.

So what does this mean for you? Well, if you have been working on leash training and now want to learn how to do some obstacle course work, take some time with just leash walking first! 

That way both of you will be comfortable with each other before moving onto something more complex like agility or obedience classes where there are multiple distractions around.

Skill masteryEnsure that skills are fully developed before moving on
Time and effortAllow sufficient time and resources for skills to be learned
PreparednessConsider whether previous steps have been adequately completed
ConfidenceEnsure that learners feel confident before moving on
FeedbackEstablish a feedback loop to evaluate readiness and refine skills

Note: Advancing too quickly to the next step can lead to incomplete learning and suboptimal performance. It’s important to carefully evaluate progress before moving on to the next stage.

Neglecting Basic Obedience Training

Basic obedience is the foundation of any dog’s training. It’s important to remember that you’re not training your dog so much as you’re teaching him or her to behave in a way that makes it easier for people and animals around them to enjoy each other’s company. This means treating the process as fun, rewarding, and positive!

The first thing you’ll need is practice at obedience commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” To make this easier on both yourself and your pet, keep training sessions short no more than 10 minutes at a time and frequent; no one likes being forced into an activity they don’t enjoy! A clicker can be used to mark correct behavior during these sessions so everyone involved knows when they’re doing well. 

The leash can also be useful while working on establishing some boundaries; by holding onto it whenever possible, owners teach their pets that they always have someone looking over their shoulder (and thus won’t feel tempted to misbehave).

Socialization is a key component of therapy dog training. If you’re looking to learn more about its importance, check out our guide on the importance of socialization in therapy dog training. Our comprehensive article covers the benefits of socialization, as well as tips for socializing your furry friend.

Not Working On Your Obedience Skills In Distracting Situations

In order to be a therapy dog, you need to work on your obedience skills in distracting situations. A good place to start is with other dogs. 

Make sure that you practice your commands when there are other dogs around and make sure that your dog responds well to them. 

Teach them how to walk by your side without pulling so that the person holding the leash doesn’t get dragged along for the ride. You might also want to practice around children since children tend to like dogs more than adults do!

Neglecting Your Own Physical And Mental Health

You know that being physically and mentally healthy is important to you, but do you think it’s also important for your dog? I bet you do. But what about the other people in your life? Do they matter?

Your dog needs to be in good shape because he or she will be working hard with you. If the dog is out of shape, then he or she won’t have the energy needed to execute all those cool tricks that make therapy dogs so special. And remember: You want a positive experience for both of you when going out on visits!

The same goes for yourself if your body isn’t healthy, then neither will be your mind or spirit. Being fit can help reduce stress levels and increase confidence; these things are crucial if we want any chance at success when training our therapy dogs (or any kind of dog).

When it comes to training your therapy dog, using the right techniques is essential. Our guide on the most effective training techniques for therapy dogs covers a range of proven methods, including positive reinforcement, clicker training, and behavior shaping. Learn more about how to train your furry friend to become a skilled and compassionate therapy dog.

Failing To Consider Your Handler Skills

  • You need to be able to handle your dog.
  • You need to be able to handle yourself.
  • You need to be able to handle other people and their dogs (and other animals).
  • Your dog needs to know how to behave around other people, their dogs, and animals in general—and you should too!

Failing To Consider The Dog’s Handler Skills

As a dog trainer and someone who has worked with many therapy dogs, I’m often asked what are the most common mistakes my clients make when training their service dogs. There are many things to consider, but there’s one that stands out: failing to consider the handler’s skills.

When you first start training your dog, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of getting started and not look beyond your own personal needs. 

However, it’s important that you keep in mind that therapy dogs need to be matched with handlers who will be able to handle them properly and vice versa.

For example: if you’re planning on taking your therapy pooch through nursing homes as part of his job description (as many do), then he’ll need some basic obedience commands down pat so he doesn’t run amok during visits or jump up on patients (which could cause injuries). 

Likewise for those who want their pooches working at schools or hospitals they should have excellent recall capabilities so they don’t run away from the kids or bite anyone while eating lunchtime treats!

If these scenarios sound like yours or something similar but beyond what might seem reasonable for someone new at training their pet then please don’t hesitate to ask friends or family members who may have more experience with this type of thing than yourself; they may know someone else who would love nothing more than giving back by helping out with such an important cause!

If you’re wondering when to start training your therapy dog, our article on when to start training your therapy dog: expert advice is a must-read. Featuring insights from experienced trainers, this guide covers the optimal age range for training, as well as the benefits of early training and socialization.

Focusing Too Much On The Task At Hand And Not Enough On The Team As A Whole

The goal of training a therapy dog is to teach them how to behave in situations where they are expected to perform certain tasks, such as allowing themselves to be petted or giving kisses, or performing tricks for entertainment purposes. 

It’s easy for trainers who focus solely on these individual tasks to overlook the bigger picture that all therapy dogs are part of a team that should function as one cohesive unit. 

This means it’s essential for handlers and trainers alike to set aside their own personal agendas, whether they’re focused on meeting an arbitrary deadline or maximizing their puppy’s potential by getting him/her certified ASAP so they can start making money with him/her sooner rather than later. 

The most important thing is that each member of your team remains focused on achieving its collective goals; if you focus too much on yourself instead of your dog’s overall welfare and happiness, your relationship may suffer because he/she will feel undervalued by you (and rightfully so!).

Encourage open communicationFosters a sense of trust and collaboration
Value diversity and inclusionIncreases creativity and innovation
Build a supportive cultureBoosts morale and reduces stress
Celebrate team successesReinforces positive behaviours and encourages team spirit
Empower team membersEnhances job satisfaction and creativity

Note: While focusing on individual tasks is important for team success, prioritizing team dynamics can greatly improve overall performance and workplace satisfaction.

Letting Your Dog Get Away With Bad Manners During Therapy Dog Work

You should never let your dog get away with bad manners during therapy dog work. It’s important that you can control your dog in all circumstances and make sure that he or she behaves well around other people, especially children. 

You don’t want to distract from the mission at hand by having a pet who won’t stop jumping on visitors, barking at them and pulling on their clothing.

You also need to be able to trust that your animal companion will be able to focus on what he or she is doing without being distracted by something else happening in the room, such as another person walking through carrying a big box of papers or an elderly woman using her walker as a cane while trying not fall over (yes that happens).

Positive reinforcement is a crucial aspect of therapy dog training. To gain a better understanding of its role and impact, check out our article on the roles of positive reinforcement in therapy dog training. With insights on the benefits of positive reinforcement, as well as tips on how to effectively use rewards and treats in training, this guide is a valuable resource for any aspiring therapy dog trainer.

Neglecting Socialization Training For Your Therapy Dog Candidate.

Socialization is an important part of any dog’s training. It includes teaching your dog to interact with other people, animals and environments in a positive way. This should be done from an early age so the lessons learned are easy to apply throughout your pet’s life.

Socialization can be broken down into three main categories:

  • Environmental – teaching your therapy dog how to behave around new places and situations
  • Behavioral – teaching your therapy dog how to interact with other people, animals and environments in a positive way
  • Emotional – teaching your therapy dog how to respond appropriately when faced with stressful or emotional situations

Choosing A Young, Untrained Puppy To Be Your Therapy Dog Candidate

Choosing a young, untrained puppy to be your therapy dog candidate.

Puppies are adorable and can be trained to do all sorts of tricks, but they often aren’t ready for therapy work until they’re older (most people recommend waiting until the dog is at least 18 months old). 

The training process can be long and difficult for both you and your dog, so it’s important that you make sure your puppy is ready for it before starting. In particular:

You need to make sure your puppy is able to tolerate strangers before putting him through the stress of formal training sessions with strangers in the room. 

If he isn’t used to being around other dogs or humans yet, this may also take some time on top of whatever other training needs he has. 

This means spending lots of time playing with him around other animals/kids/etc., so if this isn’t something that’s easy for you then maybe consider adopting a more mature dog instead!

AgeOlder dogs are often calmer and more well-behaved
BreedSome breeds are better suited for therapy work than others
TemperamentLook for dogs with friendly, sociable personalities
HealthDogs should be in good physical and mental health for therapy work
TrainingConsider adopting a dog that has already had basic obedience training

Note: While adopting a young, untrained puppy to be your therapy dog candidate may seem like an appealing option, it’s important to carefully consider the factors above before making a decision.

Allowing Other People To Pet Or Handle Your Therapy Dog Candidate Without Asking Permission First

Allow me to start by stating that it is, of course, important for people to ask permission before petting or handling a therapy dog. 

Therapy dogs are working animals and need to be in a mental state that allows them to focus on their task at hand: providing comfort and affection while they go about their day job of being large-breed companions.

If you’re training a therapy dog candidate as part of your family and you have young children around the house, then it can be especially tempting to let them play with the animal when they see you interacting with your therapy dog in public but this is something that should always be avoided. 

While some dogs are more tolerant than others when it comes to having strangers approach them (and many will even enjoy an enthusiastic head rub from time to time), there are still risks involved with allowing people who aren’t familiar with your particular companion access without asking first.

Assuming You Can Make Someone Else’s Bad Day Better

Don’t assume you can make someone else’s bad day better. It’s not your job to fix other people, and it can be unhealthy for both you and the person you’re trying to help if you try too hard. 

If someone is having a rough time, let them know that you’re there for them but don’t try to take on their worries as if they were yours.

Take care of yourself first, so that you can be there for others when necessary. If you’re exhausted from work or school, stressed out about finances or relationship problems, or just generally unhappy with life in general (as most people are at some point or another), then chances are good that there will be nothing positive coming out of sharing this energy with your dog!

ComplimentBoosts confidence and self-esteem
Share a favorite brand productA thoughtful gesture that shows you care
Listen attentivelyMakes them feel heard and validated
Offer to help with a taskEases their burden and demonstrates kindness
Send a positive messageEncourages positivity and brightens their day

Not Taking Good Care Of Yourself When You Feel Sad Or Down (Because It Will Happen)

It’s an unfortunate fact that you will feel sad or down at some point during your training. It’s okay to admit it; the important thing is to remember that you are not your dog, so you don’t have to be strong all the time. When you do feel down, try some of these things:

  • Take care of yourself by eating healthy food and sleeping well.
  • Find a nice quiet place where you can relax and take some time for yourself.


Being a therapy dog handler is a fantastic way to help others and make a difference in their lives. However, it’s important that you make sure you’re prepared before taking on the role. 

You don’t want to start training your dog only to realize halfway through that you’re not ready for what comes next! 

Don’t let yourself be one of those people who makes these common mistakes! Now get out there and enjoy every second of being a therapy dog handler with your pup!

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about training your furry friend, we recommend checking out the following resources:

Common Dog Training Mistakes and How to Avoid Them: This guide from the American Kennel Club covers 10 common training mistakes and provides tips on how to avoid them.

Common Dog Training Mistakes to Avoid: The Spruce Pets’ article covers 9 common training mistakes and includes advice from experienced trainers.

21 Common Dog Training Mistakes: This guide from Pupford covers 21 common training mistakes and provides helpful tips and solutions for each one.


What are the most common mistakes to avoid when training a therapy dog?

Based on our research, some of the most common mistakes to avoid when training a therapy dog include not properly socializing your furry friend, using punishment or negative reinforcement, and failing to be consistent with training.

How can I socialize my therapy dog?

Socializing your therapy dog is crucial for their success. Some key tips for socialization include exposing them to a variety of people and situations, using positive reinforcement to reinforce good behavior, and gradually increasing their exposure to new experiences.

What is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a training technique that involves rewarding behavior that you want to encourage, rather than punishing behavior that you want to discourage. Examples of positive reinforcement include treats, praise, and toys.

How can I be consistent with training my therapy dog?

Consistency is key when it comes to training your furry friend. Some ways to stay consistent include setting a regular training schedule, using the same commands and cues, and rewarding good behavior consistently.

Can I train my own therapy dog, or should I work with a professional trainer?

While it’s possible to train your own therapy dog, working with a professional trainer can be incredibly helpful. A professional can provide you with guidance and support, as well as help you address any behavior issues that arise during training.