When To Start Training Your Therapy Dog: Expert Advice

In this post, we’ll take a look at the best way to get started training your therapy dog. If you’re thinking about getting a therapy dog, or if you already have one but aren’t sure how to train them properly, then this is the place for you! 

We’ll cover everything from crate training and socialization all the way through obedience training and proofing. So sit back, relax and let’s dig into it:

How to Make Your Dog a Therapy Dog: A Brief Guide – YouTube
– Therapy dogs can provide comfort and support to those in need, making them a valuable addition to healthcare and community settings.
– Socialization is an important part of therapy dog training, helping the animal feel comfortable in new environments and around different types of people.
– Positive reinforcement is an effective training method for therapy dogs, as it encourages good behavior and reduces stress and anxiety.
– It’s important to train therapy dogs to handle stress and anxiety, as they may encounter stressful situations while on the job.
– The training process for therapy dogs can vary, but most programs require basic obedience training and specialized training for therapy work.

Start with Socialization

Socialization is the process of exposing your dog to a variety of experiences in order to help him become accustomed to different people and places.

Socialization is especially important for therapy dogs, as it will help them be comfortable in many situations. Dogs that are not socialized are more likely to be fearful or aggressive towards strangers.

You can use activities such as taking walks around your neighborhood, inviting friends over for dinner or going on errands with your dog as opportunities for socialization.

Therapy dogs can be a great source of comfort and support for those in need. If you’re considering training your dog to be a therapy animal, check out our comprehensive guide on training your therapy dog to get started.

Start with Crate Training

Crate training is a great way to keep your dog safe, happy and calm. The crate will become your dog’s “den” or “nest” and they will love it! 

You can use the crate as a time out spot if you have a misbehaving puppy or adult dog. Crate training is also an excellent way to teach your dog to be alone in the house while you are away at work or school.

Use Positive Reinforcement

The best way to train your therapy dog is with positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement means rewarding good behavior, rather than punishing bad behavior. 

You can use positive reinforcement to train your therapy dog and also your family members! It’s a great way to reward your dog when they do something right. 

The same goes for humans: if you want to teach children how to behave in public, it’s much better for them to be rewarded with praise or treats when they are being nice than punished with a scolding when they act out of line.

Positive reinforcement works well with all ages of children because it doesn’t involve any negative consequences and encourages cooperation from everyone involved in the training process (you, the child).

Socialization is a crucial part of therapy dog training, as it helps them feel comfortable in new environments and around different types of people. Learn more about the importance of socialization in our article on socialization in therapy dog training.

Keep Training Sessions Short and Fun

So, when should you begin training your pup? In general, the best time is right after they’ve been fully vaccinated and are at least two months old. 

Ideally, you want to start as soon as possible before their cognitive development has halted (around eight weeks). 

At this stage of their lives, puppies are hungry for new experiences and eager to learn any behaviors that will help them get their paws on food or treats (or even just a good belly rub). 

They also tend to be more forgiving of mistakes made during training sessions and mistakes will inevitably happen!

Use Easy-to-Understand Commands

It’s important to use commands that are easy to understand and remember, so that the dog can respond quickly. If the command is too complicated, your dog may not understand or respond correctly.

Use short phrases. Short commands are easier for dogs to remember than long ones. Instead of “sit down,” try “down.” Instead of “come here,” try “here!”

Keep it simple! If you have a very smart dog who knows lots of tricks already, start with simple commands like sit or down before moving on to more complex ones like roll over or shake hands. 

It’s always better if your pup begins with basic obedience training before learning new tricks (if possible), since this will help him learn what good behavior looks like first after all, dogs often pick up bad habits from lazy owners who don’t train them properly!

Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective methods for training therapy dogs, as it encourages good behavior without causing anxiety or fear. Discover more about the roles of positive reinforcement in our post on positive reinforcement in therapy dog training.

Practice Around Distractions

You can practice around distractions as well. You should also be able to handle any distraction that you may encounter while walking your dog or at dog training classes, so it’s a good idea to start practicing this now.

Distractions can include:

  • other dogs and people passing by
  • loud noises (cars, construction sites)
  • scents from other dogs on the street or in another room of the house
Distraction Training ScenariosDescription
Busy public spacesPractice in busy public spaces, such as shopping malls, to simulate the crowded environment the therapy dog may encounter.
Loud noisesExpose the dog to loud noises, such as sirens or construction noise, to help them remain calm in noisy environments.
Other animalsTrain the dog to ignore other animals, such as cats or birds, to minimize distractions during therapy sessions.
Unfamiliar peopleIntroduce the dog to unfamiliar people, such as those wearing hats or carrying umbrellas, to help them remain calm in new situations.
Unexpected eventsTrain the dog to handle unexpected events, such as sudden movements or unexpected sounds.

The table above outlines some distraction training scenarios for therapy dogs. Distraction training involves exposing the dog to a variety of stimuli to help them remain calm and focused in challenging environments. By practicing around distractions, they can perform their duties more effectively and safely.

Incorporate Obedience Training Into Daily Routines

Incorporating obedience training into daily routines is an excellent way to train your dog in a fun and safe way. You can practice at home, on walks, or anywhere else you spend time together. Keep these tips in mind while working with your therapy dog:

  • Practice basic commands such as “sit” or “down.” If your dog has trouble performing these commands, try using hand signals instead of verbal cues until he gets the hang of it.
  • Use treats for rewards when teaching new skills! They’re an easy way to motivate and reinforce positive behaviors. Be sure not to use food as a reward too often though—you want him to learn that good behaviors are their own reward!

Be Consistent with Rules, Routines and Disciplinary Actions

Be consistent with rules, routines and disciplinary actions. A well-trained dog will know what to expect from you. Consistency is key in any training program, but it’s especially important when you’re training your dog to be a therapy pet. 

This means that you need to be sure that all of the family members are on the same page when it comes to setting rules for your pet, as well as enforcing them consistently whenever they’re broken by either Mom or Dad (or both!).

Reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior. Positive reinforcement is a great way to teach your dog how he should act in certain situations, while also encouraging him into doing more of those things on his own instead of relying solely on commands or other forms of guidance from his human counterpart(s). 

It’s generally best practice for all pets – cats included – who have access outside their homes because there may not always be someone around watching over them 24/7; however if this does happen then please remember that even the smartest animals need discipline too!

Therapy dogs may encounter stressful situations while working, so it’s important to train them to handle anxiety and stress. Our guide on training your therapy dog to handle anxiety and stress offers valuable tips and techniques for helping your dog feel calm and comfortable in any situation.

Proofing Takes Time, Patience and Effort!

Proofing is a process of testing the dog’s understanding of commands. When proofing, you need to take into account that working with a therapy dog takes time, patience and effort.

Proofing can be done at home or in a training class with the help of your instructor or trainer. If you choose to do it on your own, remember that proofing only works if your dog has had all their basic training skills down pat before beginning this process!

It’s important for safety reasons as well as for confidence building purposes that proofing takes place regularly throughout the years before entering therapy work with clients (approximately four times per week).

Proofing TechniquesDescription
Gradual exposureGradually expose the therapy dog to new environments, people, and stimuli to help them become acclimated and comfortable.
Distraction trainingTrain the dog to ignore distractions, such as noise or other animals, while working.
Reinforcement trainingUse positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior and correct mistakes.
Consistent trainingMaintain a consistent training schedule and methods to reinforce good habits.
Handler feedbackWork with handlers to receive feedback on the therapy dog’s performance and adjust training accordingly.

The above table outlines some proofing techniques for therapy dogs. Proofing involves training the dog to perform reliably in a variety of settings and situations, and it takes time, patience, and effort to achieve. Incorporating these techniques into the training process can help therapy dogs perform their jobs more effectively and safely.

Consider Enrolling in Puppy Classes for Therapy Dog Training.

If your dog is between the ages of eight and 16 weeks, consider enrolling in puppy classes. Puppy class is a great way to start training your therapy dog because it allows you to work with your pup right away, while also meeting other owners who will be training with their dogs as well.

Puppy classes teach you how to train your dog and introduce them to basic commands such as sit, down and stay. 

These simple commands are very useful when working with clients because they allow you time to talk while maintaining control over the situation.

Additionally, puppy class offers an opportunity for socialization—the process by which a pet learns appropriate behavior around people and other animals. Socializing pets helps them grow into friendly adults that are comfortable around others of all shapes and sizes (including strangers).

If you’re considering therapy dog training, it’s important to know what to expect during the process. Check out our article on what to expect during therapy dog training for an overview of the training process, from certification to public access testing.

Don’t Forget about the Handler!

You should also think about yourself and your ability to handle stress. In addition to keeping your dog happy and healthy, it’s important that you stay calm. Dogs learn by example, so if you’re stressed out, they’ll pick up on that and start getting anxious themselves.

Also keep in mind the importance of training yourself! Even though we’ve already talked about this before, let’s reiterate: handlers need to be able to communicate with their dogs. If a handler has trouble communicating with their pup or can’t read their body language properly (or both), then therapy dog training will be much harder than it needs to be.

Handler Support StrategiesDescription
Regular breaksAllow handlers to take regular breaks to avoid fatigue and maintain focus.
Training and educationProvide handlers with ongoing training and education to improve their skills and knowledge.
Comfortable equipmentEnsure handlers have comfortable and ergonomic equipment, such as leashes and harnesses.
Mental health resourcesOffer mental health resources, such as counseling services or stress management programs.
Recognition and appreciationRecognize and appreciate handlers for their hard work and dedication to their therapy dog teams.


It’s important to remember that it takes time and patience to train a therapy dog. You and your pup will both learn valuable lessons along the way, and you may experience setbacks along the way. But there is no better reward than knowing that you are helping others in need!

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to help you with training your therapy dog:

How to Train Your Dog to Become a Therapy Dog: This blog post provides guidance on how to train your dog to be a therapy animal, as well as tips for finding therapy dog training programs.

How to Train a Therapy Dog: This article from the American Kennel Club covers the basic steps for training your dog to become a therapy animal, and includes tips for selecting the right breed for therapy work.

Therapy Dog Training: This guide from The Spruce Pets offers an overview of therapy dog training, including the different types of therapy dog work, the benefits of therapy dog training, and tips for finding a reputable training program.


What are the benefits of therapy dog training?

Therapy dogs can provide comfort and support to people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other settings. They can help reduce stress and anxiety, promote mental and emotional well-being, and provide a valuable form of companionship and social interaction.

What kind of dogs make good therapy dogs?

Many different breeds can make excellent therapy dogs, as long as they have the right temperament and training. Some popular breeds for therapy work include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Standard Poodles, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

How long does it take to train a therapy dog?

The training process for a therapy dog can vary depending on the individual dog and the training