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How to Train Your Dog for Pet Therapy Certification

Updated on May 22, 2014
A good pet therapy dog is calm, well behaved, and loves people.
A good pet therapy dog is calm, well behaved, and loves people. | Source

Pet Therapy Dogs

Animal assisted therapy or pet therapy seems like a New Age concept, but it actually dates back to the 9th century. There are records from a little town in Belgium dating back to that time that indicate that livestock and farm animals kept at a group home for the disabled were used for therapy for the residents. Some things never change! The human-animal bond is often magical, and pet owners will tell you that their dogs, cats, horses and other four footed (or winged) friends can pull them out of an emotional slump, help them get over a bad breakup, or feel better when they have the flu.

If you can relate to the fact that pets have healing power, then you may want to get involved in pet therapy. Also called animal assisted therapy, pet therapy generally refers to volunteer work in which owners bring their dogs, cats, or other animals into hospitals, group homes, hospices and nursing homes to visit the patients. Patients enjoy visiting with the animals, and there's some evidence that petting dogs, for example, boosts the immune system. New research from Loyola University suggests that patients recovering from joint replacement surgery need 50% less pain medication when they interact with pet therapy dogs.

If pet therapy interests you, you can get started in a number of ways. The first thing to do is to honestly evaluate your pet. A pet therapy dog, for example, must be very calm and enjoy being petted by strangers. Dog obedience training is suggested for pet therapy dogs; dogs must respond to commands such as sit, stay and down very quickly. Pets involved in animal assisted therapy programs must stay calm around hospital equipment too. You can't have your 80 pound German Shepherd jumping on an elderly person and knocking out her IV!

Dog Training Tips for Pet Therapy Dogs

To get started with pet therapy training, begin with basic dog obedience training.

  • Train your dog to sit, stay and respond to the "down" command. Treats, positive reinforcement, and lots of praise help.
  • If you need to, find a pet therapy training center or dog obedience training expert to help you one on one.
  • Non profit groups such as the Delta Society offer a home training course to prepare your pet for pet therapy certification.
  • Many local ASPCA offices are involved in Pet Partners or related pet therapy programs. They often offer low cost dog obedience training, pet therapy training, and pet therapy certification. Check with your local ASPCA office for locations near you.

Advice for Pet Therapy Volunteers

  • Be sure your dog, cat or other pet will really enjoy being a pet therapy animal. Although you may love your pet and he or she is great at home, some animals just don't take well to the stress of the strange sights, smells and sounds of hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. It's not for everyone and that includes pets.
  • Join a recognized animal assisted therapy organization such as the Delta Society. Membership has its benefits in the form of insurance for pet therapy volunteers. Their policy covers members who volunteer in a recognized pet therapy program with $1 million in liability insurance. That's important - you don't want to get sued if Fluffy triggers an asthma attack in a patient. Align yourself with a recognized group.
  • If you're a health care professional and you'd like to begin a pet therapy or animal assisted therapy program at your facility, the same advice applies; align yourself with an organization or group. This brings animals and volunteers who have earned pet therapy certification into contact, and provides many resources to you too.

Pet Therapy Certification

Pet therapy certification is offered by the Delta Society and other groups.  Dogs and their handlers must demonstrate basic dog obedience training, and dogs must show they can behave around people in wheelchairs and other medical settings.  During the certification test, the instructor may ask the dog and handler to demonstrate basic commands.  The dog is then exposed to typical sights and sounds he may encounter in a therapeutic setting and evaluated on his behavior. You can take the test more than once, and testing is held at various places nationwide.   Animals do not necessarily have to pass the certification test to participate, but it's always a good idea, and is required if you join an animal assisted therapy program such as Pet Partners

Animals offer so many benefits, and ask only for a little kindness, food, water and shelter in return.  For people who love animals and want to make a difference in the world, volunteering for a pet therapy program is a worthwhile endeavor that can brighten someone's day.


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    • Chris Achilleos profile image

      Chris Achilleos 6 years ago

      useful and interesting hub Jeanne. I have done a course in Companion animals and health and have written a hub on Animal assisted therapy and stress you might find interesting. Voted up, interesting, useful and sharing :)

    • brennawelker profile image

      brennawelker 6 years ago

      Useful hub!

    • Jeanne Grunert profile image

      Jeanne Grunert 6 years ago from Virginia

      Shay, it was 11/18/2009. Thanks for the nice note!

    • profile image

      shay 6 years ago

      what was the original date of this article? i love it and i want to use it in my research paper

    • Jeanne Grunert profile image

      Jeanne Grunert 6 years ago from Virginia


    • ellahall2011 profile image

      ellahall2011 6 years ago

      Great article.

    • profile image

      hi 7 years ago

      love it