The Science Behind Training Therapy Dogs: What You Need To Know

Therapy dogs are a great way to bring happiness and comfort to people who need it. They’re trained to be good around people and other animals, and they know how to keep their emotions in check when they visit hospitals or nursing homes. 

But there’s more than one way to train a therapy dog! In this guide, we’ll explore the science behind training therapy dogs, including temperament tests and socialization tips. 

We’ll also look at different types of therapy dogs (from emotional support animals all the way up), as well as some common mistakes that owners make during training sessions. So let’s get started!

Therapy Dogs – YouTube
Key Takeaways
– Successful training of therapy dogs requires patience, consistency, and utilizing positive reinforcement for behavioral education.
– Prior to beginning therapy dog training, it is essential to understand what to expect during the process.
– A therapy dog’s training can provide numerous benefits, ranging from increased socialization skills to emotional well-being.
– Socialization should be a crucial part of therapy dog training.
– Additional resources are available to further comprehend the importance of therapy dog training.

Training Isn’t Always Easy

It’s not always easy to train a therapy dog. There are many challenges in training a therapy dog that are different from training other dogs. 

A therapy dog needs to be trained to do many different things, such as offering affection or being calm and relaxed. The most important part of training your dog is teaching them how they should interact with people around them.

Training a therapy dog requires patience and consistency in their behavioral education. For in-depth guidance on how to complete the process, you can refer to the Ultimate Guide to Training Your Therapy Dog.

Therapy Dogs Need To Be A Certain Temperament

Your dog must be a certain temperament to be a therapy dog. The ideal candidate should be friendly, approachable, and willing to interact with strangers. They should also handle stress well and be able to focus on their handler in any situation. 

Therapy dogs need to behave in public and get along with other dogs and, if you’re getting one from a shelter or rescue group, this may already be part of their personality! 

Lastly, as mentioned above, your new pet will not only have to provide comfort for others but also for you when they are training at home or traveling with you on your adventures around town.

Temperament Characteristics of Successful Therapy Dogs

CalmTherapy dogs should possess a patient and relaxed temperament when encountering new situations.
FriendlyEager to be around clients, although not demanding attention.
EmpatheticAble to sense the mood and feelings of therapists and clients.
TrainableAble to learn and absorb new information quickly and respond to cues from their handler.
TolerantAble to handle a range of sensory experiences, such as unfamiliar scents, sounds, and objects without overreacting or becoming anxious.

Note: These traits are vital to the success of therapy dogs in their role. Many organizations and dog owners use tests such as the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen evaluation or the Delta Society’s Animal Assisted Therapy screening to determine if a dog has the necessary temperament traits for therapy work. It’s important to note that no one breed is better suited for therapy work than another, as temperament traits can vary widely within each breed.

Socialization Is Key

Socialization is key to a therapy dog’s success. It’s the process of helping your dog get used to people, other dogs, and other animals. 

Socialization helps them learn how to interact with humans in different situations and environments. It also teaches them how to handle stress and new environments—which are both integral parts of being a therapy dog!

Distractions Are A Must

During the training process, you may be asked to do many things that you’re not used to doing. You need to be able to work around distractions and stay focused on the task at hand. Working with a therapy dog is about helping others in need as much as it’s about getting your dog ready for his or her future job.

Distractions are everywhere! Dogs can easily get distracted by other dogs, people, sounds, etc., so you must learn how to handle these potential distractions during training sessions with your dog and also during visits with clients or students where there may be other dogs present.

Therapy dog training heavily relies on positive reinforcement for the dogs to feel safe and valued. An overview of how this training method is used is outlined in the guide on the roles of positive reinforcement in therapy dog training.

There Are Different Types Of Therapy Dogs

There are different types of therapy dogs. Some dogs can be trained to work with people who have physical disabilities, while others are trained to work with those who have mental health issues.

These animals are trained in a variety of ways and can be used in many different settings, including hospitals and schools.

Dog Distractions

The first thing to know about training a therapy dog is that dogs are curious. They investigate their environment and are always seeking new experiences, which makes them ideal candidates for learning new things.

However, this motivation to explore can also be a distraction when it comes to learning new behaviors. If your dog is interested in something else besides the task at hand, there’s a chance she will become distracted and lose focus on the task at hand. 

This can happen with both humans and other animals if she sees another dog or person (or even a squirrel), it might be hard for her not to check it out!

Another fun fact about dogs: they’re social animals! Dogs enjoy spending time with their people and other dogs alike so much so that sometimes they forget where they’re supposed to be focusing their attention on! 

Seeing another person or animal might cause your pet’s mind off course as he tries his best impression of “The Wave” before coming back into line again afterwards… but then again, maybe not! 

Your pup may pick up on some very basic hand signals like “sit” or “stay,” but if he has no experience whatsoever in obedience training yet then chances are good that his attention span during these sessions won’t last long enough for him to learn anything useful yet either way.”

Common Distractions for Dogs During Therapy Sessions

NoiseLoud or sudden sounds such as clanging metal, slamming doors, or loud conversation can disturb dogs during therapy sessions.
TouchUnfamiliar or abrupt touching by clients, especially around sensitive areas such as the head, can make dogs uncomfortable during sessions.
ScentsStrong fragrances, the smell of medicines, or cleaning materials used in therapy facilities can affect a dog’s comfort level.
MovementSudden movements, fast-paced activity, or excessive activity by clients or dogs may be distracting.
EnvironmentSpace and temperature can be factors that affect the dog’s comfort level during therapy sessions. For example, many dogs can become anxious in tight quarters or overly warm spaces.

Note: These distractions can affect a therapy dog’s performance and even their well-being. It’s important for therapy dogs to receive training to become acclimated to these distractions, which can lower anxiety and lead to more effective sessions. The specific sensitivities of individual dogs should also be taken into account.

When You Work With People, You Work With Their Dogs

But when you work with dogs, you work with their people as well. More than anything else, this is the thing that makes training therapy dogs so challenging. 

You have to be prepared for anything because you never know what kind of person and dog may come through your door. 

It could be a single mother whose son has autism, an elderly man who’s just lost his wife to cancer, or a teenager fresh out of jail who’s still trying to figure out how life works today. Whatever it is that brings these people together with their pets and often each other—it’s nothing short of amazing and inspiring everyday.

The point here is that no matter what kind of person or dog shows up at your clinic each day (or week), there will always be something special about them that makes them worth getting to know better. 

And once you get past all the noise and distractions around them the neuroses we all feel when our kids are acting up in public places or when we’re sitting at stop lights next to strangers who look like they’ve been run over by trucks full-time you’ll find yourself noticing the kindnesses these pet owners show toward one another instead:

  • The way this woman helps her husband down from their van after he broke his leg last month
  • The way this man leans down close enough so his dog can hear him whispering sweet nothings into its ear before handing over a handful of treats every evening after dinner

Before beginning therapy dog training, it is important to know what to expect during the process. To acquire a frame of reference, refer to this comprehensive article on what to expect during therapy dog training.

Good Manners And Obedience Outside The Home Are Important

The dogs in this program are trained to be well behaved outside of their homes. This includes walking on a leash, sitting, staying and other commands. They must also be taught to not jump on people or bark at them.

Additionally, these animals must learn how to behave when they are around food; specifically, they should not eat it!

Therapy Dog Owners And Handlers Should Be Prepared For Emergencies

As a therapy dog owner or handler, it’s important to be prepared for emergencies. If your dog is injured, you should immediately remove any loose objects that may get caught in the wheels of their wheelchair or gait trainer. You can also use a towel or blanket to absorb blood if they are bleeding.

If your dog has been injured, always remember to remain calm it will help them feel safe and secure during this stressful time. 

If possible, try contacting the owners of any other dogs that might have been involved in an accident so that they can see if their pets need assistance as well.

Training your dog to become a therapy animal has numerous advantages not only for the community but for your dog as well. A complete list of the benefits can be found in this article on the top 15 benefits of training your dog as a therapy animal.

Classroom Training And Education Are Vital To Grooming Good Therapy Dogs

The classroom training and education are vital to grooming good therapy dogs. In fact, the American Kennel Club (AKC) says that there is a distinct difference between service dogs and therapy dogs. 

Therapy dogs are not trained to perform any specific task or function, but rather they serve as companions and provide emotional support for individuals in need of such support.

A therapy dog’s handler must be completely committed to the dog’s well-being before becoming certified through an organization like Pet Partners. 

The process involves completing an extensive application and interview process as well as taking classes on how to care for your pet in this capacity. 

Once certified, you’ll have access to additional resources including training manuals and continuing education opportunities that can help you meet the needs of those around you with disabilities or other special needs

There Isn’t One Specialized Training Method For All Therapy Dogs

There isn’t one specialized training method for all therapy dogs. Each type of therapy dog has its own training requirements, and the training methods required for individual dogs are different. Some dogs are better at some tasks than others! 

For example:

  • Therapy dogs who visit hospitals need to be trained to respond calmly and remain quiet in stressful situations.
  • Therapy dogs who visit nursing homes may also have to be trained not to jump up on patients or visitors who don’t want them around.
  • Training for a search-and-rescue dog is different from that of a therapeutic support animal because they’re looking for explosives instead of providing comfort and affection and they usually do it while their handler carries the equipment needed to find bombs or other threats.
Training MethodDescription
BehavioralTeaching therapy dogs appropriate behaviors for interacting with individuals in therapy settings.
ObedienceTraining dogs to obey commands necessary for working alongside handlers in therapy sessions.
Canine Good CitizenRequires dogs to pass an assessment evaluating their behavior in various situations, including public spaces.
Learning by AssociationUses positive reinforcement to encourage dogs to associate desired behavior with positive feedback.
Classical ConditioningTeaching therapy dogs to associate therapeutic settings with positive experiences to reduce anxiety and stress.

Note: The training method chosen for a therapy dog will vary based on their specific needs, disposition, and temperament. No single training method works for all therapy dogs, and it’s important to work with experienced trainers to develop a program that fits the individual dog’s needs.

Therapy Dogs Bring Smiles And Support To People Who Need It

Therapy dogs bring smiles and support to people who need it. They’re trained to be calm, confident and friendly. 

They’re comfortable in new situations. And they can be patient with children and adults alike. All of this makes them great at their jobs as therapy dogs!

Socialization is a crucial part of the therapy dog training process. To gain a better understanding of its importance and how to build upon it, check out this article on the importance of socialization in therapy dog training.


We hope that this article has helped you understand the science behind training therapy dogs. There are many factors to consider when choosing a dog for this type of work, but with patience and dedication, it can be done! 

If you have any questions about how to do so or if you think your dog might make a good therapy animal, please feel free to contact us at Pet Sitters International or any other professional pet training school near you.

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to learn more about therapy dog training:

Dutch: This blog post talks about the importance of therapy dogs and how to train them.

Frontiers In Veterinary Medicine: This article outlines the challenges and opportunities of therapy dog training and the beneficial impact on therapy recipients.

Verywell Mind: This article summarizes the benefits of therapy dogs from the user’s perspective and how they can influence the recipient’s physical and emotional state.


How can I train a therapy dog?

Therapy dog training involves educating dogs on obedience, socialization, and identifying what training the dog will need for various therapy situations. It is recommended to work with trained professionals to learn the proper techniques for therapy dog training.

What are some things to consider when training your dog to become a therapy dog?

When training your dog to become a therapy dog, you need to consider their disposition, temperament, and overall behavior. It is also important to research guidelines and standards of different organizations to ensure your dog’s training meets all criteria.

Can any breed of dog become a therapy dog?

Most breeds of dogs can become therapy dogs. Nonetheless, handlers should consider their breed’s predisposition to performing a therapy role, and each organization has its breed and animal standards.

What are the benefits of training my dog to be a therapy dog?

Training your dog to become a therapy dog can provide numerous benefits such as increased socialization skills, boosted confidence and self-esteem, and improved physical and emotional well-being.

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

The main difference is their purpose and training. Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort, affection, and support to people in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. Service dogs, on the other hand, are trained to perform specific tasks that assist people with disabilities.