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How to Get Your Dog Certified as a Therapy Dog

Updated on September 14, 2011
Ace finished his TDI testing and was exhausted waiting for me to complete his paperwork.
Ace finished his TDI testing and was exhausted waiting for me to complete his paperwork.

Priming Your Puppy

I am frequently asked what the steps are to get a dog certified to be a therapy dog. First things first, not all dogs are cut out to be therapy dogs. Just because you want your dog to visit the sick, does not mean that your dog wants to. It is a team effort.

Before you can begin, your dog must be well-trained and well-socialized. That generally means that you start working with the potential therapy dog as soon as they come home. Keep them with you constantly and be consistent with your rules. A firm word is usually enough to correct a puppy in the act of misbehaving. It must be done immediately! To do that, they must be with you. Introduce them to strangers.

Socialization is critical. Your future therapy dog will have to accept all people in a friendly, relaxed manner. They must be acquainted with crutches, wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs, and any other medical appliances that you can expose them to. Think like a dog. When they meet someone, a lot of the picture is smell.

Make sure that your future therapy dog is familiar with the common smells surrounding hospital wards, and sick people. Your dog will most likely find his calling on his own. My little therapy dog, Ace likes hospice work. I would never have thought that hospice would be his calling, but it is. Some dogs will prefer nursing homes and still others will prefer hospital wards. It is important that you listen to your partner’s preferences as well as your own. You are only his handler. It is your dog who is doing the real work.

Ace's calling is hospice work. He comforts the last hours of lives. Here he is easing my father, Frank. On his last day, Ace would not leave his bed.
Ace's calling is hospice work. He comforts the last hours of lives. Here he is easing my father, Frank. On his last day, Ace would not leave his bed.

Obedience Training Yourself or Choosing a Trainer

While obedience training can be done at home with a good cyber coach, most people require the stability of a trainer. If you have the discipline to maintain a routine, then you can probably train your dog yourself. You will have to be disciplined. Set aside at least 15 minutes a day to work with your dog. It is better to incorporate your training into everything that you do all day every day. At the end of Puppy’s first year, he will need to be able to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. If you are going to use a dog trainer, choose one who is certified by a “real” certifying agency. Some super stores will advertise that their trainers are certified. The reality is that they certify them themselves after just a few weeks of following around another one of their “certified” trainers. Don’t fall for the hype. Go to a certifying agency website such as American Pet Dog Trainers Association and find a trainer who is actually certified.

Canine Good Citizen Test

When your dog is mature and has mastered all basic obedience skills necessary to complete the Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC) he or she may be tested. There is no age limit for a puppy or dog to be tested for CGC. However, if your puppy is too young, you will need to have him tested again as an adult. Keeping this in mind, it is generally better to have them tested as adults in the first place.

Because the trainer who has worked with your dog cannot be the trainer who tests your dog, it will be necessary to look up a local CGC tester in your area to perform the test. The test consists of 10 smaller tests, each one at a different station. At each station, your dog will need to complete the required test without any form of aggression.

· Station 1: Accepts a Friendly Stranger: Puppy should be friendly and not display any aggression or fear

· Station 2: Sits Politely for Petting: Puppy should sit for greeting. Handler should not have to pull puppy back by the leash. This should be a pleasant and relaxed test. Puppy should show enthusiasm to sit in front of a stranger to get a pat on the head.

· Station 3: Appearance and Grooming: Puppy should be neat and clean with no distinguishable body odor. Puppy should not be wearing heavy perfumes or colognes since these things can be detrimental in a therapy dog situation. It is best not to get used to using them in the first place. Puppy will have to accept the tester brushing him or her, so bring puppy’s brush with you.

· Station 4: Out for a Walk: Puppy will have to walk in a relaxed manner on a loose leash. If the leash is tight, the puppy will fail. Puppy may not pull at the leash and will have to be respectful.

· Station 5: Walking Through a Crowd: Puppy will have to walk on a loose leash through a crowd of no less than 3 strangers. When I test, I ensure that some are children because a dog that cannot accept children is not a good citizen. Either way, these will be people that your dog has not met before. Puppy will not be allowed to jump or lick the strangers or show any kind of aggression or fear.

· Station 6: Sit Down and Stay in Place: Puppy will have to sit and stay while handler goes to the end of a 20 foot line. Puppy will be placed on a sit and stay. Handler will retreat to the end of the line then return to the dog at a natural pace. Puppy must remain in place

· Station 7: Come when Called: Puppy is left 10 feet from the handler. This can be accomplished in many different ways. I prefer a sit and stay, but it is not a requirement of the test as laid out by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The handler then calls the dog. The dog must respond to the command without hesitation.

· Station 8: Reaction to Another Dog: Two handlers will approach each other with their dogs. The dogs must not have met prior to the test, the handlers will shake hands and exchange pleasantries then move on. The dogs must not show more than a casual interest in the other dog or handler.

· Station 9: Reaction to Distractions: The tester will choose two out of six situations to provide a distraction to the dog and then gauge his reactions. According to the AKC CGC guide book these are:The evaluator will select only two of the following:

(Note: Since some dogs are sensitive to sound and others to visual distractions, it is preferable to choose one sound and onevisual distraction).

A) A person using crutches, a wheelchair, or a walker (5jt. away)

B) A sudden opening or closing of a door.

c) Dropping a pan, folded chair, etc. no closer than 5-ft. from the dog.

D) A jogger running in front of the dog.

E) A person pushing a cart or crate dolly passing no closer than 5-ft. away.

F) A person on a bike no closer than 10-ft. away.

Puppy can show natural curiosity but is not allowed to bark, growl, show any aggressiveness, panic, or run away.

· Station 10: Supervised Separation: In this test, the handler will hand the dog’s leash to the tester and leave the dog’s sight for three minutes. Puppy must not panic and must remain relaxed at all times. If puppy paces, wines, or otherwise shows anything stronger than mild agitation and nervousness, he will be disqualified.

Other major disqualifiers include elimination: Make sure that you have walked puppy before the test. If puppy goes potty during testing except at station 10 and then only if the test is conducted outside, the dog will be eliminated and will not earn the CGC title.

For more information on AKC CGC qualifications go to

Therapy Dogs International Testing and Test Preparation

Puppy has now completed most of the requirements for Therapy Dog. The only thing left is the testing. If your dog can pass the CGC then the most challenging addition to the test is the addition of ignoring food while walked past it. Therapy Dogs International (TDI) requires that your dog walk past a tasty tidbit of food on the ground without making a go for it. This is a challenge for most dogs. TDI testers are also very good at providing lots of hospital like appliances and people to test the dogs. If your dog reacts adversely to a person who moves with an awkward gait, they will not make an appropriate therapy dog. Therapy dogs generally will be in contact with people who do not move normally, smell normally, and may encounter food on the floor. These tests ensure that your dog will not create a situation that would prevent other therapy dogs from doing their work.

TDI requires four test additions to the AKC CGC tests. These tests are as follows:

· Reaction to Medical Equipment: Crutches, wheelchairs, etc. TDI can be very creative in providing medical equipment.

· Leave it: Puppy must not eat the food that it passes

· Say Hello: Small dogs are picked up, or allowed to “toe up” (stand on back legs to be handled) Large dogs can sit, stand, or toe up depending on necessity.

· Reaction to Children: This is self-explanatory. A dog that is aggressive towards children is not safe in a therapy situation.

For more information on TDI testing requirements go to

Recommended Reading

I am happy to answer any questions that you may have.

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I know my dog will pass all but the three minutes Supervised Separation and he will not leave my side.

      But this is ok as I want him as my Therapy Dog as I get very stressed and he is the only one that can help me.

      Is there any way that I can get him tested for my Therapy Dog alone so he can go with me and help me with my stress.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      WOW! There is much to this. My cousin had two seeing eye dogs before passing. Funny, he named both the same name - Diablo, too. I have a good friend who is Bipolar and she has a dog for that purpose. Pretty amazing. It knows her moods, when she is supposed to take meds, etc. Dogs just might be more than a best friend.


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