Therapy dog

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Golden Retrievers are often used as therapy dogs due to their calm demeanor, gentle disposition, and friendliness to strangers.

A therapy dog is a dog that might be trained to provide affection, comfort and love to people in several locations. These dogs are defined but not covered or protected under the Federal Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities act. They also do not have public access rights with exception to the specific places they are visiting and working. Typically the dog would be granted rights by individual facilities only. Therapy dogs are subjected to several test to ensure that they are fit for the job. These test look at their ability to block out distractions, comfortable around a variety of people with a variety of disabilities, and are comfortable and able to walk through many different terrains.

The use of dogs for therapeutic reasons has been demonstrated by many people over the last few centuries, including Florence Nightingale, Sigmund Freud, and Elaine Smith.

Therapy dogs are usually not assistance or service dogs, but can be one or both with some organizations. Many organizations provide evaluation and registration for therapy dogs, sometimes with focus on a particular therapeutic practice such as reading to dogs.Therapy dogs have several benefits ranging from therapeutic and psychological benefits to academic and cognitive benefits.   


A therapy dog is a dog that might be trained to provide affection, comfort and love to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with anxiety disorders or autism. Therapy dogs are usually not assistance or service dogs, but can be one or both with some organizations.[1]

In the United States, the term "therapy dog" is defined by but not covered or protected under the Federal Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities Act. They also do not have public access rights with exception to the specific places they are visiting and working. Thus, therapy dogs are not treated as service animals and are not afforded the same privileges as service animals are.[2] Typically the therapy dog is granted rights by individual facilities only. Therapy dogs earn the AKC Therapy Dog title.[3].In order for a dog to be a good candidate to become a therapy dog and receive an AKC certify title they should be calm and social with strangers. They should also be able to adjust to loud noises and fast movements. [4]. There are certain training steps that are needed for a dog to become AKC certified. Pet Partners ( a national organization that teaches training for both dog and handler.The first step is to socialize your dog, get them used to being around people and other animals. Then they go through test to become AKC or Pet Partner certified. They are tested on behaviors such as no jumping and being able to walk on a loose leash. Once the dog becomes AKC certified they are signed up for training classes. The first class is called distraction-proofing class which helps the dog become more focused. The last class is the therapy training class itself. This is where the dog and the dog's owner are prepared for therapy visits. [5].

Although therapy dogs are not limited to a certain size or breed, common breeds used in therapy dog application and research includes Golden Retrievers and Labradors.[6][7][8]

Therapy dogs offer many benefits to people and patients. Therapy dogs help patients to participate in physical activities. They also help encourage them to have cognitive, social, and communication goals. [9]


Florence Nightingale pioneered the ideas of Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). She discovered that patients of different ages living in a psychiatric institution were relieved from anxiety when they were able to spend time with small animals.[10] Freud believed that dogs could sense certain levels of tension being felt by his patients. Freud also used his dog to communicate with his patients. He felt as if his patients were more comfortable talking to his dog at first and this opened up doors for them to later feel more comfortable talking to him. [10]The use of therapy can also be attributed to Elaine Smith,[11] [12]a registered nurse. While a chaplain and his dog visited, Smith notice the comfort that this visit brought the patients. In 1976, Smith started a program for training dogs to visit institutions, and the demand for therapy dogs continued to grow.


Therapy dogs are usually not assistance or service dogs, but can be one or both with some organizations. Therapy dogs are not trained to assist specific individuals and do not qualify as service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act.[13]

Many organizations provide evaluation and registration for therapy dogs. Typical tests might ensure that a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises; can walk on assorted unfamiliar surfaces comfortably; are not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or unusual styles of walking or moving; get along well with children and with the elderly; and so on. Institutions may invite, limit, or prohibit access by therapy dogs. If allowed, many institutions have requirements for therapy dogs. United States-based Therapy Dogs International (TDI) bans the use of service dogs in their therapy dog program.[14][15] Service dogs perform tasks for persons with disabilities and have a legal right to accompany their owners in most areas.[16]

In Canada, St John Ambulance provides therapy dog certification. In the UK, Pets As Therapy (PAT) provides visiting dogs and cats to establishments where pets are otherwise not available. Also in the UK Therapy Dogs Nationwide (TDN) provide visiting dogs to establishments.


There are three classifications for therapy dogs. The most common type of therapy dogs are therapeutic visitation dogs. These dogs are usually household pets; the owner of these dogs will take their pets to hospitals, nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities to visit patients. These dogs are used to improve the mental health of patients through socialization and encouragement. Another type of therapy dog is animal-assisted therapy dogs (AAT). Dogs who fall under this category have the duty of providing assistance to patients to reach certain goals towards their recovery. They work to help patients gain skills such as motor skills, use of limbs and hand-eye coordination. They do this by walking patients through certain activities and games to help them practice these skills. These dogs are usually based in rehabilitation facilities. The last type of therapy dog is a facility therapy dog. These dogs usually work in nursing homes along with their handlers. They live at the facility and help patients with Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive and mental illnesses.[17]



Animal Assisted Therapy has been reported to help many psychological health issues such as anxiety, depression, social skills, and simply improving the moods of the patient. [10]

Therapy Fluffies at UC San Diego

Additional psychological benefits of therapy dog programs in educational settings are that they can provide comfort, companionship, a diversion to unpleasant thoughts or situations, can lessen resistance and expedite the development of a relationship in the therapy process, and can help people feel more comfortable in a new situation. [18]

Psychological Benefits in School Setting[edit]

The University of Connecticut uses therapy dogs in their program Paws to Relax, available during finals week to help students deal with increased anxiety. The school uses them in other stressful situations, including suicides and deadly automobile accidents. [19] Since 2011, Yale Law School has used therapy dogs to aid students experiencing stress. [20] Some colleges and universities in the US bring therapy dogs to campus to help students de-stress. These campus events are often referred to as "Therapy Fluffies", a term coined by Torrey Trust, the original founder of the UC San Diego therapy dog de-stress event.[21] In 2009, Sharon Franks, shared the idea of bringing therapy dogs to campus with the UC San Diego Office of Student Wellness.[22]

Since the autumn of 2010, "Therapy Fluffies" has visited the UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Riverside campuses during the week before mid-term and final exams.[23][24] These events give students and staff the opportunity to pet and relax with therapy-certified dogs.[25] The university also works with the Inland Empire Pet Partners, a service of the Humane Society to bring therapy-certified dogs to the campus’ Mental Health Day Spa, held quarterly.[26][27]

In 2014, Concordia University, Wisconsin became the first university in the US to adopt a full-time therapy dog to its campus in Mequon, WI. The golden retriever, Zoey, is a Lutheran church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog, trained to interact with people at churches, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, events, and in disaster response situations.[28]

Stressful Situations in Educational Settings[edit]

On December 14, 2012, therapy dogs were brought to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut following the shooting and deaths of 26 people, providing comfort to children and parents. Previously used therapy dogs to offer comfort to faculty, staff and students following the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting in Blacksburg, Virginia when 32 people were killed. [29]


Programs such as the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program to promote literacy and communication skills. The practice uses therapy dogs to encourage children to read aloud by giving them a nonjudgmental listener.[30]It has been proven that the academic performance and children's enthusiasm for reading has increased by having a therapeutic dog with them, especially in children with special education.[citation needed]Dog Assisted reading programs allow students having difficulties with reading opportunities to read books to a canine companion who unlike others, will not judge them. One article described the goals of canine-assisted reading programs to include increasing reading fluency, increasing motivation to read, providing encouragement for reluctant readers, and making reading fun. [31]

An article published by American Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseases & Other Dementia's reported that during visits with dogs, residents with dementia were able to be involved in special activities and were more verbal then usual.[10] Researchers have identified further cognitive benefits of therapy dogs which include an increase in mental stimulation and assistance in the recall of memories and the sequence of events.[32]


Interaction with therapy dogs improves cardiovascular health and as a result they may need less medication. As stress lessens in those feeling anxious, breathing slows down. Further, humans petting animals promoted the release of hormones that can elevate moods specifically serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.[33] Further, patients receiving occupational therapy have improved their fine motor skills by grooming therapy dogs. [34]


Promotes greater self-esteem in students and encouraged positive interactions with peers and their teachers. [35] Additionally, children with autism demonstrated increased verbal abilities and social interaction during therapy sessions when animals were present compared to traditional therapy sessions without them. [36]


The Difference Between Service and Therapy Dogs[edit]

Service dogs are trained to assist patients in their day to day physical needs. Service dogs help those with disabilities pursue everyday life with safety and independence. Many service dogs have a "no petting" policy while they are on the job to keep them from being distracted from their task. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are trained to provide psychological or physiological comfort to patients in all different situations. These dogs are actually trained to interact with all kinds of people, not just their handler. Therapy dogs and their handlers also do not have the same rights as service dogs and their handlers as they can be rejected from being allowed in businesses, restaurant and many other locations.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA" (PDF). ADA. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  2. ^ "Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals - ADA National Network".
  3. ^ "What is a Therapy Dog? – American Kennel Club". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  4. ^ "Training your Dog to be a Therapy Dog". American Kennel Club.
  5. ^ "Training Your Dog to Be a Therapy Dog". American Kennel Club.
  6. ^ Fine, Aubrey H. (May 12, 2015). Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy: Foundations and Guidelines for Animal-Assisted Interventions. Academic Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-12-801436-3.
  7. ^ Silva, Nathiana B.; Osório, Flávia L. (April 4, 2018). "Impact of an animal-assisted therapy programme on physiological and psychosocial variables of paediatric oncology patients". PLoS ONE. 4 (13): e0194731. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0194731. PMC 5884536. PMID 29617398.
  8. ^ Davis, Rebecca (May 1, 2018). "A 4-Legged Approach to Clinical Education and Research". The ASHA Leader. 23: 32–33.
  9. ^ Butler, Kris (2013). Therapy Dogs Today, 2nd Edition: Their Gifts, Our Obligations. American Dog Obedience Center, LLC 12201 Buckskin Pass, Norman OK 73026: Dogwise Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9747793-7-9.
  10. ^ a b c d Ernst, Lorraine. "Animal-Assisted Therapy: An Exploration of Its History, Healing Benefits, and How Skilled Nursing Facilities Can Set Up Programs". Retrieved 2019-04-05.
  11. ^ "Therapy Dogs International".
  12. ^ "ADA Requirements: Service Animals".
  13. ^ "Information Resource on Assistance Animals for the Disabled". September 19, 2011. Archived from the original on April 23, 2012. Retrieved April 28, 2012.
  14. ^ "Therapy Dogs International".
  15. ^ "ADA Requirements: Service Animals".
  16. ^ "Revised ADA Requirements: Service Animals" (PDF). ADA. 2011.
  17. ^ "Therapy Dogs - The Different Types & Their Benefits | Fienberg Consulting". Feinberg Consulting. 2018-05-05. Retrieved 2019-04-01.
  18. ^ “Animal-Assisted Therapy Research Findings”,
  19. ^ “10 Colleges with Successful Pet Therapy Programs”,
  20. ^ “The Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Classrooms and on College Campuses”,
  21. ^ Gastaldo, John (December 8, 2015). "Therapy Fluffies at UCSD". San Diego Tribune. Archived from the original on December 23, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  22. ^ Bowler, Matthew (December 9, 2015). "San Diego Colleges Use Dogs To Take Bite Out Of Exam Stress". KPBS. Retrieved December 11, 2015.
  23. ^ "Therapy Fluffies at UC Davis". Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  24. ^ Keckeisen, Kevin (December 7, 2012). "Riverside: Therapy dogs help UCR students relieve stress". The Press Enterprise. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  25. ^ "The Mind Spa". Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  26. ^ "Therapy dogs provide relief to stressed out students". UC Riverside. May 26, 2010. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  27. ^ "Students at UC Riverside get some pet therapy as they cram for exams". CBS Los Angeles. June 4, 2014. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  28. ^ McCarthy, C. "K-9 comfort dog drives on CUW's campus". Concordia University Wisconsin. Archived from the original on March 31, 2014. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  29. ^ “The Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Classrooms and on College Campuses”,
  30. ^ Thackara, Gina (March 19, 2017). "Event at Pittston Memorial Library allows youngsters to read to animals". Times Leader.
  31. ^ The Reading Teacher, Vol. 67, No. 2 (October 2013), pp. 87-95 Published by: International Literacy Association and Wiley Stable,
  32. ^ “Animal-Assisted Therapy Research Findings”,
  33. ^ “Animal-Assisted Therapy Research Findings”,
  34. ^ Anne M. Foreman, Penelope Allison, Michelle Poland, B. Jean Meade & Oliver Wirth (2019) Employee Attitudes about the Impact of Visitation Dogs on a College Campus, Anthrozoös, 32:1, 35-50, DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2019.1550280
  35. ^ “The Benefits of Therapy Dogs in Classrooms and on College Campuses”,
  36. ^ “Animal-Assisted Therapy Research Findings”,
  37. ^ Dogs, Alliance of Therapy (2017-03-12). "Difference Between a Therapy Dog vs a Service Dog". Alliance of Therapy Dogs Inc. Retrieved 2019-04-05.

[1]External links[edit]

  1. ^ Kirnan, Jean; Siminerio, Steven; Wong, Zachary (2015-11-02). "The Impact of a Therapy Dog Program on Children's Reading Skills and Attitudes toward Reading". Early Childhood Education Journal. 44 (6): 637–651. doi:10.1007/s10643-015-0747-9. ISSN 1082-3301.