The Most Effective Training Techniques For Therapy Dogs

Have you always wanted to train a therapy dog, but didn’t know where to start? If so, you’re in luck! In this article, we’ll discuss how to be successful by using techniques that are proven to work. So let’s get started with…

12 Skills Your Dog Must Master To Become A Therapy Dog
– Socialization and positive reinforcement are critical components of therapy dog training.
– Understanding the science behind therapy dog training can help handlers to build a stronger bond with their pets.
– Choosing the right breed is important when it comes to therapy dog training.
– It’s crucial to understand the requirements and tasks involved in therapy dog certification before beginning training.
– Keeping your dog healthy and happy is an essential part of therapy dog training and long-term success.


When you are training your dog to become a therapy dog, you will want to introduce them to as many people as possible. This way, they will be comfortable with meeting new people in any situation. When introducing your dog to other dogs, do not let them interact with each other until they have properly been introduced. 

It’s important that you teach your dog how to behave around other animals before they meet any dogs outside of your household. It’s also important that you ensure the safety of both yourself and any strangers who might be visiting during this process make sure no one is injured!

When working on introducing children and adults with disabilities or illnesses into the mix, always keep an eye on both parties involved in order for everyone involved (including yourself) feels safe throughout the process.

If you’re interested in training your furry companion to become a therapy dog, Unified Paws has created The Ultimate Guide to Training Your Therapy Dog to help you get started. This comprehensive guide explains how to select the right breed, provides training exercises, and outlines crucial preparation steps.


The most important thing you can do to ensure your dog is ready for training is to remain calm and relaxed. This not only applies to you, but also your dog. If they feel that they’re safe and comfortable with the environment around them, this will help them focus better on learning new skills.

If you find yourself becoming distracted or anxious during a training session, take a break and get some fresh air before getting back into it. Not only will this help keep your mind clear while training, it’ll also allow both of you some time to stretch out so that neither one of you gets too tired of sitting down!

Don’t get excited by what’s going on in the room either! A great way for dogs learn is from their owners’ reactions; if an owner shows excitement when performing certain tasks (such as shaking hands), then that becomes something that the pet wants to do themselves because it makes them happy too! 

This can lead towards unwanted behaviors such as jumping up onto tables or barking loudly when guests come over–which means less attention paid towards actually learning how not jump onto tables!

The Lead

The lead is the most important part of training a therapy dog, and you should be sure that your chosen lead is comfortable, lightweight and made from a material that doesn’t irritate the dog’s skin. 

The best leads have simple clasps that are easy to use with one hand (so as not to leave the other hand free for greeting clients), and they have handles on both ends if you need to hold onto it while walking your dog.

According to The Science Behind Training Therapy Dogs: What You Need to Know guide by Unified Paws, the chemical release of oxytocin during positive training reinforces the bond between humans and their pets. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is responsible for strengthening social relationships and emotional awareness.


The intention of this section is to provide you with a comprehensive guide to walking your dog. You will learn about the importance of walking your dog and how to do it with other people, in a group setting, or at the local park.

Walking is one of the most important activities for therapy dogs, as it provides them with an outlet for their energy while also giving them an opportunity to practice their obedience training and learn new skills. A good walk will also help you bond with your pet!

Appropriate LeashingEnsures safety and management of the dog while walking in public spaces.Retractable leashes, slip leashes, standard flat collar or martingale collar.
Positivity and ReinforcementAlways reinforce positive behavior with treats, belly rubs, or verbal praise.Zuke’s Mini Naturals Dog Treats, Blue Buffalo Training Treats, Wellness Soft Puppy Bites.
Environment AwarenessMake sure to scan the environment for potential hazards or stressors and be aware of your dog’s stress signals.Human crowds, dogs, traffic, loud noises.
Checking InAlways make sure to check in with your dog during the walk, assess their behavior and reduce any tension points.Body language and signals, breathing patterns and possible triggers.
Appropriate DressAlways ensure that their dress is suitable comfort-wise, and safety-wise.RuffWear Front Range harness, Kurgo Collision Harness, ThinkPet Reflective Harness.

Walking Considerations

  • Always leash your dog appropriately and ensure their collar or harness is properly fitted.
  • Be attentive to your dog’s behavior and any signs of discomfort, fear, or stress.
  • Use positive reinforcement to reinforce good behavior.
  • Always be aware of the environment, especially if walking through crowded areas.
  • Dress your dog appropriately for the weather conditions, comfort, and safety.


Socializing your dog is an important part of the training process. In order to be able to go into public places and interact with people and other dogs, they must learn how to be comfortable in new situations. This can only be achieved through socialization.

This is why it’s important for puppies to meet as many people, children, other dogs (both good and bad), cats, loud noises and other things that may scare them before they’re 12 weeks old. The more they’re exposed to during this time period the better off your dog will be when he or she starts their therapy work later on down the road.

Rewards & Treats

Treats are a great way to reward your dog, but they can be used sparingly. Treats should not be used as a bribe or as a reward for bad behavior. 

Instead, treats should be given sporadically and when the dog has performed a task correctly. This will help reinforce good behavior in the future.

Socialization is a preventative measure that helps therapy dogs overcome fear and anxiety in new environments. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of socialization, visit Unified Paws’ comprehensive guide on The Importance of Socialization in Therapy Dog Training.


Tricks are a fun, entertaining way to teach your dog new behaviors.

Tricks can help your dog relax. The association with doing something for you is an inherent motivator for dogs and is often used in obedience training when teaching a dog to walk on a leash or sit still in a crate.

Tricks build confidence in your pup by exposing him to new situations, people, places and things he might not normally encounter (like having his paws touched). 

This type of exposure helps build the bond between dog and handler — and eventually between dog and other dogs! 

Training should be positive: rewarding good behavior that occurs naturally will encourage more of it; punishing bad behavior causes confusion because dogs don’t understand why they’re being punished unless they know what they did wrong!

Basic Commands

Basic commands are the foundation of any good training regimen. Dog trainers refer to these as “commands,” but they’re really just behaviors—things that your dog can do that you ask him or her to do, at least in part because you’ve trained them to do so.

Basic commands include:

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay (including wait)
  • Come (or find me)

Heel (stay by my side when walking on leash) Off! Leave it!

As opposed to punitive measures, positive reinforcement offers progress, encouragement, and support for pets and handlers. To discover how positive reinforcement reinforces the bond, check out Unified Paws’ guide on The Roles of Positive Reinforcement in Therapy Dog Training to learn more.

Training & Supervising Volunteers

Volunteers are a vital part of your training program. They can fill in the gaps when you’re not available, and can help your clients feel more comfortable during their sessions. 

However, it’s important to train and supervise volunteers so they deliver consistent quality therapy dog services.

Training should cover:

  • Good hygiene practices for dogs and people
  • How to handle a nervous or aggressive dog (or other animal) with good body language and verbal commands
  • How to manage medical conditions like diabetes or epilepsy

Supervising volunteers means making sure that they follow your training protocols at all times, including:

Keeping the clients comfortable in their interactions with therapy dogs by having proper boundaries set up before beginning an activity such as walking together on-leash through crowds of people or pets at home while wearing vests identifying them as “working” animals

Type of TrainingPurposeExamples
Orientation TrainingProvides an overview of the organization’s purpose, the benefits of therapy dog visits, and an introduction to animal-assisted therapy.PetPartners’ New Handler Orientation, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs Inc.’s Volunteer Orientation.
Dog Handler TrainingArms volunteers with the necessary training to prepare their dogs for therapy work. Includes protocols for managing aggressive or anxious dogs.Alliance of Therapy Dogs’ Handler Workshop, Therapy Dogs International’s Test Sessions.
Continuing EducationOngoing training and education for volunteers and their dogs to maintain certification and improve skills.The Good Dog Foundation’s Continuing Education Program, Paws for People’s Continuing Education Series.
SupervisionProvides ongoing feedback for volunteers to ensure the safety and efficacy of therapy dog visits, and protocols for reporting any incidents or concerns.Alliance of Therapy Dogs’ Policy and Procedure Manual, PetPartners’ Supervised Visitation.

Safety Techniques

Safety techniques are the most important things to remember when training a therapy dog. Since you never know how kids or adults might react to your dog, we recommend the following:

Never leave your dog alone with a child. If you want to spend time with another person’s child, always have an adult handler there as well.

Always keep your therapy dog on leash at all times—it’s just safer that way!

Never let your therapy dog off-leash unless it is in a specially designed area specifically designed for this purpose (like some parks and other public areas). Also make sure that your leash is short enough so that he can’t jump over something—you don’t want him getting hurt!

If you’re thinking about training your dog to be a therapy animal, it’s important to understand everything that goes into the process. Check out Unified Paws’ guide on What to Expect During Therapy Dog Training to learn about the training procedures, potential setbacks, and long-term benefits.

Testing & Certification Procedures

Testing and certification should be done by a professional trainer. This is important for the therapist’s dog, who needs to know how to behave in public and around unfamiliar people. It is also significant for the handler, so they can learn how to work with their dog in this new environment. 

Finally, it’s vital for the client or owner of the therapy dog they want to know that they can trust their pet when they go out in public together.

For employers of handlers (such as hospitals), certification provides peace-of-mind that their employees have received proper training before taking any patients out into public spaces and/or facilities for therapy sessions with clients onsite at hospitals or other medical facilities.

Record-Keeping Procedure

The most important thing to keep track of is the time you spend training your dog. Keeping detailed records will help you see which techniques are working, and which ones are not. Here’s what I do:

  • Each week, write down all the training sessions you have with your dog. If it’s a volunteer or therapy session, write down the date and location as well as how long it lasted (including breaks).
  • Write down any other notes about that training session—what worked well or did not work well? What were your goals going into this session? Were they met? How did your dog feel during/after that session? What challenges did he face during/after this session?
  • Keep these logs for 2-3 weeks so that you can look back on them at any point when trying new techniques or getting discouraged about progress made so far.
Type of RecordPurposeExamples
Health RecordsTrack your dog’s medical history and ensure they stay up-to-date on vaccinations and preventative care.Vaccination records, heartworm and flea/tick prevention history, spay/neuter documentation.
Training LogsRecord your dog’s progress in training, keep track of areas needing improvement, and identify areas requiring additional focus.Training schedules, notes on your dog’s progress and setbacks, reward-based training logs.
Volunteer HoursDocument the volunteer hours you and your dog dedicate to therapy work, and maintain records of visits to nursing homes, hospitals, schools, or other therapy dog organizations.Sign-in sheets from therapy locations, volunteer hour logs, letters of reference from organizations.
Certification RecordsKeep copies of your dog’s evaluation and certification documents from organizations such as Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs International, etc.Copies of your dog’s evaluation and certification records, renewal documents, and liability insurance certificates.


The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. There are plenty of people out there who have found success with a therapy dog and are willing to help you along the way. 

It can be daunting at first, but as long as you keep up with your training and make it fun for everyone involved, it will pay off in spades once you reach certification day!

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources you may find helpful when researching therapy dog training:

CertaPet’s Guide to Therapy Dog Training: This comprehensive guide offers an in-depth look at the various aspects of therapy dog training from certification to the specific steps for socialization.

MasterClass’s Therapy Dog Training Explained: This article provides a detailed explanation of the role that therapy dogs play in mental health support and the specific training techniques needed for dogs to become certified as therapy dogs.

American Kennel Club’s How to Train a Therapy Dog: This guide from the American Kennel Club is an excellent resource for information on how to select the right breed of dog, the specific training exercises necessary for certification, and tips on how to prepare training dogs for therapy work.


What are the requirements for a therapy dog?

There are no official breed or age requirements for therapy dogs, but they need to be socialized, have basic obedience training, and exhibit a calm demeanor. They must also pass a therapy dog test and have liability insurance.

What is involved in therapy dog training?

Therapy dogs require specific training in obedience, socialization, and behavior. After passing a therapy dog test, they will also require training in the specific tasks required for the type of therapy work they will be doing.

Is training a therapy dog expensive?

The cost of therapy dog training can vary widely depending on the program and location. Some programs cost thousands of dollars, while others may be less expensive or even free.

Can any dog be trained as a therapy dog?

While any dog can be trained in obedience and socialization, not all dogs have the temperament necessary to become a therapy dog. It’s important to ensure that your dog exhibits calmness, gentleness, and a willingness to interact with strangers before beginning training.

What is the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog?

Therapy dogs provide emotional support and companionship to people in need, typically in public settings like hospitals and schools. Service dogs, on the other hand, are trained to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities, such as guiding a person who is visually impaired, or alerting those with hearing impairments to sounds they would not otherwise hear.