The Ultimate Guide To Training Your Therapy Dog

Have you ever wondered how therapy dogs are able to visit hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities? It’s a lot of hard work! The first step is getting your dog certified as a therapy dog. 

This means showing that they can stay calm and controlled in public environments and around people of all ages and abilities. 

Once you’re certified, it’s time to get started with your work as a team — that’s where this guide comes in!

12 Skills Your Dog Must Master To Become A Therapy Dog
Key Takeaways
The process of training a therapy dog requires patience, dedication, and planning.
Understanding your dog’s temperament and behavior is essential to successful training.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in therapy dog training and should be used consistently.
Avoiding common mistakes can help you sidestep potential pitfalls in training.
While training a therapy dog can be challenging, the rewards are significant.

Enroll in a Therapy Dog Program

A therapy dog program is the best way to train your dog for this type of work. In most areas, there are several schools and programs available that offer instruction on how to become a therapy dog team, so you should be able to find something near you.

 If not, ask around until you do find one that might work in your area or consider enrolling in an online program if cost is an issue (some websites charge monthly fees).

There are many different types of therapy dog programs out there but they all have similar elements:

The first step is usually attending a training class where basic obedience skills will be taught along with some specific techniques that help increase confidence around people like sitting nicely next to them while they’re talking or lying quietly with them during conversation.

After completing these classes, most dogs will then begin working with an experienced handler who helps show them how their behavior makes others feel better by practicing positive interactions with strangers at parks or other public places.

House training your dog is an essential part of ensuring that your home stays clean and your dog stays healthy. Our Ultimate Guide to House Training Your Dog offers comprehensive and practical advice to help you successfully house train your furry friend.

Enroll in an Obedience Class

  • Obedience classes can help you and your dog learn how to communicate with each other.
  • In these classes, you will learn how to train your dog and handle situations that might be stressful for them.
  • You’ll also get the chance to practice different commands in a safe environment with other people who have similar goals as you do.

Practice walking on a Leash and Heel

The first step to teaching your dog to walk nicely on a leash is to get her used to wearing the collar and leash. When you’re ready, put on the collar, but don’t clip on the leash yet (if she does not already wear her own collar). 

Come up with an incentive that will motivate your dog, like a treat or favorite toy and give it to her when she’s in a sitting position facing away from you. Then hold onto both ends of the leash while you say “let’s go.”

Make sure there are no distractions around and then begin walking slowly forward, making sure that your dog comes along with you every step of the way by holding onto one end of his leash. 

If he wants to stop or veer off course then gently pull him back towards where he should be walking instead by tugging lightly on his line but do not try pulling him forwards as this could cause him stress which makes learning more difficult than necessary!

Now repeat this exercise once more but this time add some treats along each side so they become part of what motivates them into moving forward rather than just following commands from their owner alone!

Do you dream of training your dog to be a service dog? Before you begin, it’s important to know what to do and what not to do. Our article on The Do’s and Don’ts of Service Dog Training provides valuable insights and practical tips to help you train your dog effectively.

Make Sure Your Dog is Comfortable Around Other Dogs and People

Make sure your dog is comfortable around other dogs and people. It’s important to socialize a dog so that they are comfortable around other dogs, people, and new situations. 

Before taking your dog to work as a therapy dog, it’s best if they have been in the company of many different types of people and dogs. 

This will help them become accustomed to being around unfamiliar situations where there might be distractions or unexpected events that could cause some anxiety for them.

Vaccinate before beginning therapy work. If you plan on being certified as a therapy team with an organization like Therapy Dogs International (TDI), then both you and your pet will need to be vaccinated against rabies prior to working with clients or patients at hospitals or nursing homes within the last year.

Temperament should suit the job description: calmness, patience, friendliness…

Practice Being Around People of All Ages

When you’re out and about, practice being around people of all ages. You need to learn how to handle your dog in new situations, so don’t be afraid to ask the elderly if they want to pet your dog. 

And don’t be afraid to ask children if they want to pet your dog. And definitely don’t be afraid to ask people if they want to take a selfie with your dog!

This is a good time for you both: for you, it’s an opportunity for socialization; and for your puppy, it’s a chance for exercise and mental stimulation.

Let Your Dog Interact with People of Different Abilities

This is especially important if you want to work as a therapy dog, but it is also helpful for training in general. 

If you’re going to be taking your dog out and about on walks or visits, it’s important that he or she is comfortable interacting with people who have visual impairments or hearing impairments (or both). 

It’s also good practice if your pet has any issues with being around other dogs or animals—this will help acclimate them to those situations as well.

Training a therapy dog can be rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Avoiding common mistakes is key to successful training. Our article on 15 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Training a Therapy Dog offers guidance to help you sidestep potential pitfalls and ensure that your dog becomes an effective therapy companion.

Teach Your Dog to be Calm and Controlled in Public

If you want to be an official therapy dog team, it is important that your pet is calm and controlled in public. 

This means that as you move through the world, your dog should not bark at or jump up on people, vehicles, or other animals. 

If a person approaches your dog with their hand outstretched (for example, if they want to pet him), then your dog should not show any signs of aggression or fear.

You can teach this behavior by associating the presence of people with good things (tasty treats) and isolating the behaviors that you do not like (aggression). For example:

When someone comes near you while walking down the street holding a treat between her fingers and asks “May I give this to you?” ask her to hold it higher over his head so he has trouble reaching it. 

This will force him into a sitting position where he cannot reach what she has. Do this until he sits calmly for about 20 seconds before giving him access to his treat reward. Repeat several times over several days until it becomes reliable.

Positive reinforcement trainingUsing rewards to encourage and reinforce good behaviorClicker training, treat-based training
Desensitization trainingGradually exposing the dog to stimuli to reduce fear or anxietyCounter-conditioning, grooming and handling exercises
Leash and obedience trainingTeaching the dog proper leash manners and obedience commandsGentle Leader headcollar, GoodBoy Remote Dog Training Collar
Socialization trainingExposure to various people, places, and situations to promote confident and calm behaviorPuppy classes, dog park visits

Know How to Handle Emergencies and Sticky Situations

It’s important to know how to handle emergencies and sticky situations. For example, what do you do if your dog is acting up in class? Or scared or uncomfortable? What about when your dog is sick?

Find Out Where Therapy Dogs are Most Needed in Your Community

Once you’ve decided to get a therapy dog, it’s time to find out where there are opportunities for your pup to visit. You can start by checking with local hospitals, schools, nursing homes or any other place where people are in need of comfort.

Check with your local therapy dog association about what places accept visits from pets including their qualifications for visiting those facilities. 

You can also check with your local humane society as they may have a list of available programs that need assistance from therapy dogs in training.

Effective training techniques are crucial for training a therapy dog that can make a real difference in people’s lives. Our article on The Most Effective Training Techniques for Therapy Dogs dives into the most important techniques and tips that will help you train your dog to be a responsive, effective therapy dog.

Stay Visible to the Public With Therapy Dog Tags, Vests, or Patches

Visibility is the key to safety for you, your dog, and everyone else on the street. A common misconception is that therapy dogs should be kept hidden from the public. 

This is not the case; therapy dogs are supposed to be visible in public so people know they are there and feel comfortable approaching their handler with questions or concerns about their pet.

There are many ways you can make sure both yourself and your dog remain highly visible while out in public. Some ideas include:

  • Wearing brightly colored clothing (the brighter the better!)
  • Having a vest or patches with “therapy dog” printed on them
  • Using fluorescent bandanas around their necks

Always Wear Your Therapy Dog Tags While Working

One of the best ways to let people know you are a therapy dog is to wear your therapy dog tags. Wearing your tags shows that you have been trained, and it can help open doors for you when working with people in public places.

Document Your Work as a Therapy Dog Team

The second, and arguably most important, part of your role as a therapy dog team is documentation. 

You’ll want to keep detailed records of any training events you attend, as well as any time spent with clients. Documentation is essential for insurance purposes and will help you get more work in the future, but it’s also useful for recording your progress over time.

Type of RecordPurposeExamples
Therapy Dog CertificationProof of certification and trainingAKC Canine Good Citizen, Therapy Dogs International Certification
Veterinary RecordsProof of good health and vaccinationsVet records indicating up-to-date vaccinations and medical check-ups
Daily LogsRecord of activities, interactions, and observationsDate, type of activity, duration, notes about interaction or behavior
Incident ReportsRecord of adverse events or incidentsDate, time, location, people involved, brief description of incident
Evaluation ReportsRecord of performance evaluationsPerformance evaluations of the therapy dog by a trainer or evaluator

Therapy Dogs Help Cheer Up Patients In Many Locations

Therapy dogs can be trained to visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other facilities. These animals are great at lifting spirits and helping patients feel better about themselves and the world around them.

Therapy dogs help improve the quality of life for people living with a disability by providing unconditional love and companionship. 

Many people who have been diagnosed with some type of illness prefer spending their time with these furry friends rather than individuals that may not understand what they’re going through.

Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful tools in therapy dog training. Our article on The Roles of Positive Reinforcement in Therapy Dog Training explains how positive reinforcement works, why it’s so effective, and the best ways to use it in your training sessions.


If you want to be part of the therapy dog movement, there are several steps you’ll want to take. First and foremost, it’s important to enroll in a program where you can learn how to properly train your dog. 

Once you have that down, start practicing with other people in public settings so that both of you feel comfortable working together! 

Finally, find out what type of therapy work is needed most often in your community before deciding which organization might best meet those needs.

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about dog training, check out the following resources:

The Ultimate Guide to Dog Training: This comprehensive guide from Gentle Beast covers everything you need to know about dog training, from basic obedience to advanced tricks.

How to Train a Therapy Dog from AKC: If you’re interested in training your dog to be a therapy dog, this guide from the American Kennel Club is an excellent resource.

The Ultimate Guide to Dog Training from Stayyy: This guide covers basic dog training techniques, tips for dealing with common behavior problems, and advanced training methods.


What are some basic commands I should teach my dog?

Every dog should learn these basic commands: Sit, Stay, Come, Heel, and Down. These are essential commands for safety and obedience and can make a big difference in your dog’s behavior.

How long does it take to train a dog?

Training times vary depending on the dog’s breed, temperament, and age. Most dogs can learn basic obedience commands in a few weeks, while more advanced training can take several months.

When should I start training my dog?

Puppies can start training as early as 8 weeks old. The earlier you start, the better, as young puppies are more receptive to learning and forming good habits.

How can I deal with my dog’s bad behavior?

Understanding the root cause of the behavior is the first step to changing it. Consult a professional trainer or behaviorist for guidance on how to address problem behaviors like chewing, barking, and jumping.

What is positive reinforcement training?

Positive reinforcement training is a dog training technique that uses rewards to encourage good behavior. It involves rewarding a dog when they exhibit positive behavior, rather than punishing them for negative behavior. This technique has been shown to be highly effective and is widely used by professional trainers.