What To Expect During Therapy Dog Training

Therapy dog training is a rewarding experience for both dogs and handlers. The dogs get to make new friends, the handlers get to meet new people and learn new skills, and the community gets better through the work of therapy dogs. 

Therapy dog training can also be a little bit intimidating—after all, you’re getting ready to take your dog into potentially stressful situations where they’ll be evaluated by strangers! 

But don’t worry: there are plenty of ways to prepare yourself for this part of your training in advance so that it’s not as scary or stressful on either you or your pup.

How to Make Your Dog a Therapy Dog: A Brief Guide – YouTube
Key Takeaways
Training a therapy dog requires extensive behavior and obedience training, as well as specialized training for the type of work the dog will be doing.
Socialization is an integral part of therapy dog training, and dogs must be well-behaved and comfortable in various environments.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in therapy dog training and can help dogs learn more effectively.
While certification is not legally required for therapy dogs, many organizations require it and have their own standards and requirements.
Certain breeds tend to be more well-suited for therapy work, though temperament and personality are ultimately more important factors to consider.

Expect To Be Consistently Evaluated

As a therapy dog team, you will be evaluated on your skills and your dog’s skills. You will also be evaluated on your ability to follow directions, work with a team and work with a variety of people.

The evaluation process is designed to help us determine whether or not you are ready for graduation from our program.

Training your dog to become a therapy dog is no easy feat, but it can be a rewarding experience for both you and your furry friend. Our Ultimate Guide to Training Your Therapy Dog provides expert tips and insights to help you get your dog started on the path to becoming a therapy animal.

Expect A Fair Amount Of Homework

Your training experience will be more effective if you practice the lessons outside of class, so expect to receive homework assignments. 

These may include reading a book or article, watching videos, or completing exercises in your training manual. Your trainer will also assign projects that require research and planning before bringing them into class for feedback from peers and instructors. 

Your trainer will grade all assignments according to criteria established by APDT and/or other professional associations (e.g., DVG).

Reading and studying training manuals4-6 hours per week
Practicing obedience commands1 hour per day
Regular socialization with people1-2 hours per day, as needed
Completing required training coursesVaries based on course

Expecting a fair amount of homework is a common theme in therapy dog training. Training manuals from organizations like American Kennel Club and Therapy Dogs International often require several hours of reading and studying each week.

Daily practice sessions for obedience commands are also essential to success. Additionally, therapy dogs should be well-socialized with humans and may require 1-2 hours per day of interaction as part of their ongoing training. Lastly, required training courses may vary in duration and frequency, but should be taken seriously and will require dedicated study time.

Expect To Be Surprised By Who You’ll Meet

You’ll meet people you never expected to meet. You will also be surprised by how much common ground you share with others in the same room, even if they are different from each other and your dog.

You may find yourself relating to someone who has had similar experiences as yours, or maybe the opposite–someone whose life experience is completely different than yours but still has something important to teach you about yourself and your relationship with your dog.

Are you interested in becoming a therapy dog trainer? Our comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Therapy Dog Trainer has all the information you need to get started, including the qualities you need to have to be a great trainer and the best way to prepare yourself and your dog for training.

Expect To Learn New Skills

You will learn a lot of new skills in therapy dog training. You will be expected to know how to sit, stay, heel and obey basic commands from your handler. 

This is because you need to be able to listen well in order for your human partner to feel safe around you when you are working with them in public spaces or even private homes.

You will also learn about public speaking and CBT techniques as part of your coursework at the academy; these two topics are essential for any therapy dog team since they help ensure that both people will feel comfortable working together. 

Training your dog to become a therapy animal has numerous benefits, not just for the people your dog will be helping but also for your dog as well. Our guide, The Top 15 Benefits of Training Your Dog as a Therapy Animal, outlines all the benefits of therapy dog training, including improving your dog’s socialization, building a stronger bond between you and your dog, and giving your dog a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Expect To Meet And Bond With New People

In a therapy dog training class, you’ll be meeting and bonding with new people. This can be intimidating at first, but it’s important that you get past this by being open and friendly. You will also learn how to interact with people in a way that helps them feel comfortable around you–and your future patients!

Here are some tips for interacting with other students:

  • Smile! It may seem obvious, but smiling makes others feel more comfortable around you.
  • Don’t interrupt others when they’re talking; wait until they’ve finished their sentence before speaking up yourself (or else they might feel like their time isn’t valued). If someone asks for advice about something personal or confidential, let them know that it’s okay if they don’t want anyone else knowing about it yet–you can always ask again later on if needed!

Socializing your therapy dog is an integral part of the training process and can have a significant impact on your dog’s behavior and ability to help others. Learn more about the importance of socialization and how to effectively socialize your dog with our guide, The Importance of Socialization in Therapy Dog Training.

Expect That Your Dog Will Make Progress, Too

Expect that your dog will make progress, too. A lot of the time, people think they’re training their dog when they’re actually just teaching it what to do. 

Dogs can learn new skills and behaviors quickly if they know what’s expected of them and have a positive association with the activity or place where those behaviors are being taught (like going for walks).

So don’t be surprised if you start seeing changes in your pet! It may take some time for them to get used to everything–and there may even be some setbacks along the way–but it’s important not to give up on them or yourself.

MilestoneApproximate Timeframe
Basic obedience training3-6 months
Advanced obedience training6-12 months
Completion of therapy dog coursesVaries based on course and program
First therapy dog certification1-2 years with consistent training and evaluation
Continued progress and developmentOngoing, with regular socialization and practice

Expecting your dog to make progress is an important part of therapy dog training. Basic obedience training typically takes 3-6 months, while advanced training can take an additional 6-12 months. Completion of therapy dog courses varies depending on the course and the program in which you are enrolled.

Certification as a therapy dog can take 1-2 years with regular training and evaluations. Even after certification, continued progress and development is essential to ensure that your dog is always prepared to provide the best possible therapy experience. Regular socialization and practice is recommended to ensure that your dog remains comfortable and confident in various environments.

Expect That Everyone Will Want To Pet Your Dog (And You!)

I was surprised by how many people wanted to pet my dog. I didn’t expect the elderly man at the grocery store or the kid on his bike to be so interested in getting their hands on her, but they were! And when they asked if they could pet her, I always said yes (and so should you).

It’s okay if some people don’t want your dog near them–it really depends on their personality and experience with animals overall. But if someone asks and seems genuinely interested in meeting your furry friend, then go for it!

ScenarioRecommended Actions
Members of the public approach your dogPolitely ask them to wait until your dog is free
People ask to pet your dogConfirm that your dog is friendly and willing
People ask for information about therapy dogsBe prepared to answer basic questions
Other dog handlers approach your dogAsk if their dog is friendly and well-socialized
Other handlers ask for training adviceBe prepared to share helpful tips and resources

Expecting that everyone will want to pet your dog (and you!) is a common occurrence for therapy dog handlers. When members of the public or other dog handlers approach your dog, it is important to confirm that your dog is friendly and well-socialized before allowing them to pet your dog.

In some cases, it may be necessary to ask people to wait until your dog is free or to move to a quieter location for petting and interaction. Additionally, be prepared to answer basic questions about therapy dogs and to share helpful tips and resources with other handlers who may be looking for training advice.

Expect The Unexpected!

If you’re not expecting it, then it can be a little scary. But don’t worry, because this is normal and nothing to worry about. 

The first time I went into therapy dog training with my handler, we were doing our exercises in front of an audience of people who had come out to watch us practice our skills. 

Before we started practicing our routine (which included sitting down on command), one of my trainers said something like “Okay guys,” and then she prompted me with my name so that I could sit down on command–and she did not say “Sit” once! 

Instead she said “Down!” So when she said “Down” I sat down immediately because that was what I was supposed to do when someone told me their name followed by an action word (such as Sit). 

We ended up getting lots of laughs from everyone watching us but those laughs were really good for helping us become comfortable performing in front of crowds–and they still happen today when people see how well trained I am 🙂

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in training your therapy dog and can help your dog learn faster and more effectively. Learn more about the various roles of positive reinforcement and how to use it in your dog’s training with our guide, The Roles of Positive Reinforcement in Therapy Dog Training.


We hope you have enjoyed this article and learned something new about the benefits of therapy dog training. 

If you’re interested in getting started with your own dog, we recommend checking out our list of resources on how to find a program near you. 

And if there’s anything else we can do to help out? Feel free to contact us any time!

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about therapy dog training, we recommend checking out the following resources:

Therapy Dog Training: Therapy Dogs International provides information on therapy dog training and certification, including what behavior and obedience skills your dog will need to have.

How to Train a Therapy Dog: This article from the American Kennel Club provides an overview of the different types of therapy dogs and the types of training they need to undergo.

Therapy Dog Training Explained: Masterclass offers a detailed guide on what it takes to train a therapy dog, including the temperament, skills, and obedience needed for therapy work.


What breeds are best suited for therapy dog training?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as each dog’s temperament and personality are unique. However, certain breeds tend to be more well-suited for therapy work, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Poodles.

Is certification required for therapy dogs?

While it is not legally required to have your dog certified as a therapy dog, many organizations require it. These organizations have their own standards and requirements for certification, which usually involve an evaluation of the dog’s temperament and skills.

What kind of training do therapy dogs receive?

Therapy dogs receive extensive training in behavior and obedience, as well as specialized training for the type of work they will be doing. This can include desensitization to loud noises and strange environments, as well as learning specific behaviors to help with different types of therapy work.

Can any dog become a therapy dog?

No, not all dogs have the temperament or personality to become a therapy dog. Dogs that are overly aggressive, fearful, or anxious are generally not well-suited for therapy work. Additionally, dogs must be well-trained and obedient, with good socialization skills.

How do I know if my dog is well-suited for therapy work?

If you are interested in having your dog become a therapy dog, it is important to assess their temperament and personality to ensure they are a good fit for this type of work. Working with a trainer or evaluator can help you determine if your dog has the right temperament and skills for therapy work.