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What are Therapy Dogs?

Updated on December 8, 2011

The Benefits of Therapy Dogs

More than ever, the benefits of having a pet is being touted as a direct link to good health. Many people are now happy to share their good fortune, of having an ideal pet, as a source of therapy in their communities. In addition to dogs, other domesticated pets are used as well. This include cats, rabbits, horses, birds, miniature pigs and more. But a well socialized dog remains the most popular.

Think your pet would be an ideal therapy friend? Please keep reading.

What is a therapy dog?

A therapy dog is your pet, certified or registered through an organization. It is not a new idea. There have been organized volunteer programs for more than three decades. Dogs are tested and certified through these programs and then registered as volunteers, along with their handlers.

How does it relieve stress?

Studies have shown that holding or petting an animal can lower blood pressure, help relieve stress and tension, and help a person who is experiencing depression and loneliness. In stressful environments or situations, people have been shown to open up when there is a therapy dog onsite.

Does it benefit the dog?

Too often dogs are left home alone, everyday, and would in fact benefit by staying active and having regularly scheduled activities.

How do I know my pet will be an ideal therapy dog?

Generally, a happy laid back dog is perfect. All dogs and breeds qualify, but they must be at least six months old and have lived with you for at least 6 months. They should get along with other pets, show no aggression, and have a good personality. Your dog should be house-broken, well groomed, and should also be up to date with all vaccinations. Some programs may provide some form of training but your dog should know basic obedience commands like 'sit' and 'stay.'

(See photos of Shiloh and Malachi who are well groomed, socialized, laid back, get along with SInatra, the fluffy cat also in the photo, and are comfortable around children and others. These two friendly pups make ideal therapy dogs. Their appearance alone attracts people and causes a positive, feel-good response. See links below for malamute care)

How do I volunteer for the program?

Search for a dog-therapy program in your community. There is a large established program in NJ that has programs in almost all 50 states ( It can take a month or up to six months before you can make an unsupervised visit.

Where would we volunteer?

Therapy dogs are welcomed in a variety of programs. It may be a school setting where your pet may help a child with special needs. You may also be invited to visit hospitalized children and adults, pre-surgical patients, as well as nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, libraries, hospices and shelters. It is amazing the effect that a friendly, loving dog can have on just about anybody.

For more information about other types of therapies, see link below:

This lovely Alaskan malamute, and charming malamute/husky mix are socialized and make ideal therapy dogs.
This lovely Alaskan malamute, and charming malamute/husky mix are socialized and make ideal therapy dogs. | Source
Therapy dogs are laid back and can get along with other animals, even cats.
Therapy dogs are laid back and can get along with other animals, even cats. | Source


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    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Somehow LORD BRYAN, I have the feeling that you would spoil a dog. On the other hand I'm glad you know that you are too busy for a dog right now - and don't expect a pup to wait for days to see you. That's actually very kind to consider your pup who would need you. Maybe one day.

      Glad this made you smile!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Who can deny that dogs are therapy? I would love to have a dog but my lifestyle prevents it. I cannot even have a plant due to my travelling. If only I could return home after a trip and see a doggie jumping up and down and licking me to welcome me back. That would be great threapy and stress relief. Perhpas one day. Also, it's difficult because I wouldn't be able to bring the dog between my homes in the USA and the UK. It is not allowed by the UK. Oh well, I can dream.

      Thank you for this BK. It made me smile just thinking of it.

      Lord Bryan

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you pager7 - I think we are remembering finally that dogs and other animals, probably ourselves as well, are meant for great purposes.

      I'm so glad you liked the hub crazybeanrider. And these two dogs are such beauties and in fact belong to another hubber - theherbivorehippi. I often ask her to please send photos and tell me what they are doing - even that makes me feel good. I agree we should enjoy dogs more - I think they like the idea of having a purpose and not being idle - just waiting for us to come home.

      Thank you for the comments!

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 

      8 years ago from Washington MI

      What a beautiful hub. I think animals used as therapy should be used way more than it actually is. It is such a great idea. I love the dogs. I used to have a Husky named Chance, she lived to be 16. Precious breed.

    • pager7 profile image


      8 years ago from Kampala-Uganda

      A very nice hub! I had never imagined there was such a hing as ta herapy dog!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I know what you mean PaperNotes about losing a pet. The last time was too much. I was home alone and had no one to share the grief with - and maybe that was part of the pain. It's been about 7 years now - but maybe in the future I'll lock eyes with cats and a dog and they will adopt me. There are so many pets from my long life that still make me teary eyed. So it's hard...

      Thanks for writing and sharing.

    • PaperNotes profile image


      8 years ago

      Dogs are really lovely and amazing creature. I once had a dog named Maxima. She's a real beauty for me and we play every once in a while then after that I would feel so light. When she died, I vowed I would not have a pet dog again. The pain is overwhelming that until now I still get teary-eyed whenever I think about her.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      So true 2besure. And I must say my two cats were a source of great laughter - which of course is also the best medicine. They were so different, and together they were like a comedy team. They are just so soothing.

      Thanks for writing!

    • 2besure profile image

      Pamela Lipscomb 

      8 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      Both dogs and cats are very therapeutic. I don't know what I would do without my two cats. They are a life saver.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      That just makes me feel good hearing that belliott. I think it is time to take a humane approach to everything we do in life. And include all the animals.

      Thanks for sharing that information. Nice to meet you too by the way!

    • belliott profile image


      8 years ago

      I know in out area in the midwest they have been using pet therapy for nursing homes and special ed classrooms for some time. Seems to to a lot of good.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      You know it is so true World-Traveler, dogs are really very perceptive. They will warn you if someone around you is not on the up and up. Good point. And good reason to have our pet companions as we get older - they will look out for us.

      For sure stephhicks68 - I have been reading a lot about how dogs can sniff out illness in us like cancer. How great is that too, if we have diabetes and our pups can tell us when blood sugar is low. I'm sure they can do so much that we are just not aware of.

      Thanks for the great comments and input.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Love this hub - really interesting! I suffer from Type 1 diabetes and have heard about therapy dogs that can detect low blood sugar. How cool is that? Dogs are smart, loyal creatures. Big thumbs up.

    • World-Traveler profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      Therapy dogs will not rob elderly persons of their estates, nor will they convince them to sell their owns, terminate son's or daughter's Power of Attorney, then open joint accounts. Therapy dogs as long term companions for the emotionally and socially isolated elderly is a wonderful solution to some of these problems.

      If the dog barks, watch out! The attorney, financial advisor or the home health aid may be out to steal you blind. Dogs have a great seventh sense!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Ah, you have so much love to give drpastorcarlotta - your babies know they are lucky and loved. Thanks so much for writing.

      You're very welcome prasetio30. I'm always glad to hear from you - and to keep up with you.

      Thank you for the kind comments. It speaks volumes about the kindness of hubbers. Yay!

    • prasetio30 profile image


      8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Good information, my friend. Unfortunately I don't have a dog. But I believe this information useful for Dog's Lovers. I learn something new here. Thank you very much.~prasetio

    • drpastorcarlotta profile image

      Pastor Dr. Carlotta Boles 

      8 years ago from BREAKOUT MINISTRIES, INC. KC

      I truly love my babies. They are small minature pins but the love they share with me is BIG!!!! I love your hub, thank you for sharing. God Bless YOU!!!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Oh, you are so kind Maita/prettydarkhorse - and you stay on top of everything, forgetting nothing.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      Dogs are really man's best friend, terrific idea for a hub. Beautiful like a "nana", Maita

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you toknowinfo - it does seem that the dogs are benefiting as well. They always remember people and are so happy to see them again. And why wouldn't patting them feel soooo good.

      Nice to meet you by the way!

    • toknowinfo profile image


      8 years ago

      Great article! Therapy dogs are such a wonderful thing, for the pet and the work they do. I think the dogs benefit because they know they are doing something useful. It is also amazing to see the results they can get. I hope this becomes more and more popular

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Great to hear that mulberry1. One of the best ways to heal and relieve stress and we don't need a pill. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • mulberry1 profile image

      Christine Mulberry 

      8 years ago

      Therapy dogs do wonderful work. We had 3 of them in a physical rehabilitation hospital where I worked for many years.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      You're welcome Lgali - thanks for writing!

    • Lgali profile image


      8 years ago

      very interesting hub thanks

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      For sure cashmere and I find that dogs seems to have a great sense of humor - so you can laugh together as well. And their own unique personalities. A good friend.

      You're welcome Artoflegendindia. I'm glad you found the hub informative.

      Thanks for the comments!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice hub.thank for sharing your knowledge. i have no pet in my home . so I don't know more about pet dogs.your article is very informative.

    • cashmere profile image


      8 years ago from India

      Dogs are the best pets. I agree with all that you have written. Even if you just hang out with a dog for an hour a day you get so much love and affection you feel good!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Seems we really do need healthy companionship to live longer. How nice. Thanks for writing - and nice to meet you too!

    • patdmania profile image


      8 years ago from waterford, mi

      I have heard of this before. I heard that people who own dogs, live longer than people who don't.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks for the compliment nicole.reilly. Seems it is even more popular than I thought. I'm so glad we are moving towards natural healthy therapies like this!

    • nicole.reilly profile image


      8 years ago from Austin, TX

      I personally love dogs but never thought that they can be utilized as part of a therapy. Nice hub!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      That is so lovely tylercoop. This hub is getting such a positive response - I am so happy that we are sharing our pets. And you are already doing this. Maybe you will write a personal hub about it - but meanwhile how nice that so many people get to enjoy your little maltese.

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

    • tylercoop profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks so much for this hub. I have a maltese who I take to hospitals and old age homes. She is such a comforting little sweetheart. Everyone loves her and loves to hold her in their laps.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      It makes a lot of sense Rudra - for so many reasons. Thanks for commenting!

    • Rudra profile image


      8 years ago

      Keeping a pet, keeps you active. You take them for a walk, a run and keep fit. I like the idea.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Wow HealthyHanna - that is just another place to take therapy dogs. Never even thought about that. But what a calming presence the dogs would have.

      Maybe you will write a hub about this.

      Thanks so much for the input!

    • HealthyHanna profile image


      8 years ago from Utah

      I love dogs. And I love therapy dogs. I believe in the value of them in all aspects of our lives.

      I have seen their influence on the lives of prisoners as well. That is another whole hub.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks DoItForHer - you have added so much here and raised a good point. What about the pets of the elderly that are left behind? And look at the activity that takes place - throwing the ball, getting up, just some movement is so necessary for people leaving a sedentary life. Talking to a dog, instead of remaining mute for so long. And I can't help but to think it is a major benefit for the dogs involved - if the dog enjoys it, it is great to have a happy, healthy pet.

      You've shared yet another program - seems this is much bigger than I thought. Thanks a lot for sharing your personal experience.

      If you do this chardee42, I hope you will write a hub about it and share your personal experience. I think we all like having purpose - including our pets.

      Thanks for the comments!

    • chardee42 profile image


      8 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Wow, very thorough hub. We have a lab that is almost 2 and have considered getting him trained for this. Its amazing how service and therapy dogs have such great temperament.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      You're welcome - thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      dog obedience tips 

      8 years ago

      Never would have thought that dogs also need some therapeutic services. Thanks for sharing some pondered information.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I volunteered for the Animal Enhanced Therapy Program on the rehab floor at our local hospital. The dogs were surprisingly well received; even with those who dislike or were allergic to animals.

      Occasionally, an elderly patient who had been independent their whole lives would be admitted. Sometimes they would have pets themselves and would have to give them up because they would never be able to live independently again, and the assisted-living homes they go to often have stiff limitations what pets they can have. Then to top it off, their family wouldn't visit them. Talk about a hardship!

      When I brought my dog in, petting my dog or throwing the ball could be the most that person had done in three days. Sometimes these dogs make a huge difference.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      You're welcome LivingFood. Thank you for commenting.

    • LivingFood profile image


      8 years ago

      I had no idea animals could help to keep you healthy...thanks for sharing that info!

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      So different Pollyannalana - and so true. I've had dogs in my life and they always brought their own personalities into my life and they were always sooooo interesting. And yes, how they were raised. Treat them kindly and they will respond in kind.

      Dogs have always worked and made contributions MPG Narratives - maybe we will remember that they contribute so much to life and do so much. More than just waiting for us to come home and walk them. And those 2 beauty pups belong to the hubber at the top - theherbrivorehippi - and She has written hubs about her two, filled with pics - so I knew they'd be perfect for this hub.

      Of course, an orphanage Shalini Kagal - what a perfect place to take a dog. There is such a magical connection between children and dogs. This is such a lovely match.

      How kind to think that way reddog1027 - to plan in advance when you welcome your next dog. I really think dogs like to have a place to go to, an assignment, a party to go to. They like having a purpose.

      How nice to have so many pet lovers her at the hub. Thanks for the kind comments!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for an informative hub. I have been interested in therapy dogs for the last few years. This hub gives me a great jumping off place. When I choose my next dog, I will use your hub to pick just the right dog.

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 

      8 years ago from India

      What a wonderful hub! I wish we had more of it here. A friend does take her dog to an orphanage once a week and it's amazing how the children's faces light up as soon as the see him. I hope I can do that with my two young ones too.

    • MPG Narratives profile image

      Marie Giunta 

      8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Great hub and great idea Bk. Dogs, and animals in general, give so much unconditional love which is why they make for great therapy. Beautiful pics of the dogs too.

    • Pollyannalana profile image


      8 years ago from US

      Strange I have a hub on do they go to heaven, animals are so individual just like humans and there is so much good and love in so many and it seems to stem from their owners,how they train and bring them up, just like children, don't you think?.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you so much GreenThumblady. I like the fact too that dogs can have such a great sense of humor. They love to laugh and feel good just like we do.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      I know what you mean bayoulady - I've had a similar experience with my cat who came and cuddled up next to me when I was knocked off my feet for a 24 hour something. It was so lovely.

      You're welcome Hello,hello - thanks for commenting.

      Funny Thamisgith - I have a feeling school children will love such a pup as your wife's - it'll energize them. But it does seem as if the big dogs are most often therapy-dogs.

      Veronica Allen - I remember when you adopted your kitten! I remember the hubs. And I am so glad to hear it has worked out well for you. I can't help but to think we are meant to live among all animals.

      And such a great point VacationLady - walk with your dogs and what great exercise. And I must thank the hubber at the top - theherbivorhippi, for letting me use photos of her pups. She has written wonderful hubs about them as well as dog care. And included great photos!

      Sounds so lovely Delores Monet. I think when we let our dogs be dogs they will in turn show us how wonderful a dog can be.

      Agreed sandyspider. How kind of people to share their kind pets with others.

      I've read hubs about your pups akirchner, as recently as yesterday as a matter of fact. And no doubt those big beauties would be perfect. How nice of you to think about this.

      So true Paradise7 - I'm so convinced that the dogs enjoy not only receiving hubs and pats, but enjoy lavishing a good nuzzle on others.

      It seems to be working so well Pollyannalana. I'm glad it can be done in nursing homes as well. Who can resist a happy smiling pup!

      It seems we need it HappyHer - just to spend a little time patting and petting. Speaking of pets at work - this one man raised money for a pet shelter by taking his cat to work at his store - and the cat was so friendly and thrived on lots of patting - so he asked for 10 cent donations to pet the cat. Of course most people starting putting in a dollar or more - and everyone patted the big orange cat - and the store owner donated thousands to a pet shelter.

      Thanks for the suggestion Nellieanna - I'm going to look for the movie. And you're very welcome.

      Thanks for the lovely pet comments - we are such a great bunch of pet lovers here on hub pages. I spent a day with my son and daughter-in-love, and they have snakes and a lizard and while they may not be the traditional therapy pets - they make me feel so good when I see them and they are so well taken care of - I am so proud of my son and DIL.

    • GreenThumbLady profile image


      8 years ago from The Beautiful Earth

      I had no idea there was such a thing as therapy dogs. I love this concept! I mean, who can't benefit from a loving, happy dog? They just make you feel better to be around them! Great information here for sure!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      Though I personally know of noone who has or uses therapy dogs, I'm quite fascinated & impressed by them. Also I could recomment a lovely movie titled "Miracle Dogs", starring Kate Jackson, Stacy Keach and Rue McClanahan. You can see it's not a current flick but it's one for keeping!

      Thanks for a lovely hub!!

    • HappyHer profile image

      Tracy Morrow 

      8 years ago from Cleveland, OH

      Great hub! I used to take my dog into work, he was very well behaved and everyone loved him. I could see how people would relax from their work stress just by spending a minute with him. Of course, he wasn't certified, just a great friendly dog. But I do believe dogs can be very well trained and help many others.

    • Pollyannalana profile image


      8 years ago from US

      I think this is a wonderful idea, I know my mom would have really loved this, always having animals. There could be a certain area and not have animals running around underfoot of walkers and wheelchairs. Even as much as I have against nursing homes and caregivers as a whole I know they would have common sense of how to safely do this. Great hub!


    • Paradise7 profile image


      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      I do like dogs, so much. They are so loyal. It makes sense to have therapy dogs. They give back the love and attention you spend on them, and are a welcome addition to the family.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      8 years ago from Washington

      Awesome piece! I've often thought of having our dogs join up for therapy dogs as they are so kind and so loving that they would probably give someone a lot of happiness. Griffin and his 'talking' would certainly get a lot of giggles! Thanks for making me think about that!!

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      It is such a wonderful program to have therapy dogs for those who need them.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      BK - I know an older man whose dog was a therapy dog, visiting people in a hospital. Not only did that sweet little dog bring comfort to the sick, but helped the man himself, I do believe.

    • TheVacationLady profile image


      8 years ago from Everywhere

      I truly believe that dogs are very healing to humans. I know when I just look at my dogs it makes me smile and even if you have a bad day they have a way of making you feel better. Not to mention, if it wasn't for them I probably wouldn't walk half as much as I do. And...yes it is so very important that dogs are socialized. I don't understand these people that get a dog and then just throw it in the backyard. Dogs have to be walked...they enjoy seeing other dogs and saying hello. I know my dogs have friends throughout my entire neighborhood and they know which houses to look for and who will be waiting to greet them. Beautiful dogs you used for photos by the way!! they are just perfect! :)

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      What great information. Though I have never considered myself an "animal person", I must say since we adopted our kitten, a delightful playfullness and change has come into our home. Therefore, I can see the effectiveness of a therapy dog on both the owner and the dog itself. It's amazing the effect animals can have on human beings.

    • Thamisgith profile image


      8 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Nice hub. I had no idea that such a program existed. Unfortunately I very much doubt if my wife's yappy little yorkie would de-stress anyone.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      You have raised a very interesting and different subject. Thank you for a great read.

    • bayoulady profile image


      8 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      Great hub! You brought out so many good points!

      Last fall , when I was so sick, my little dog would loyally stay beside me day and night. Just feeling her little body snuggled next to my feet made me feel calmerand restful. I was told a long time ago that especially in the elderly, that petting a dog or cat could lower your bllod pressure.

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Yes, definitely, training is involved here, and the environment should fit the dog. I've read a lot about cats actually living in many of the nursing facilities which makes a lot of sense. Why not? And think of how they would prevent a mouse explosion!

      Mastiffs and Labs - such big dogs but it seems the big ones have such nice temperaments.

      Thanks for writing!

    • lmmartin profile image


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      I used to take my dogs (Mastiffs and Labradors back then) to various 'old folks' homes in our area. Pet therapy is a very rewarding past-time, but all dogs should pass the 'good canine citizen' test before being taken into any facility. This consists of temperament testing, and basic obedience levels. Further, they should be calm and placid, able to withstand the stress of being surrounded by walkers, wheelchairs and people that 'walk funny' with canes. Don't laugh! It's pretty embarrassing to have your 'therapy dog' bark uncontrollably at a walker.

      Great hub -- but in my experience a therapy dog must and should undergo special training. And what's with "even cats?" Lynda

    • BkCreative profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thank you theherbivorehippi - I know your pups are truly stars. I could have written so much about them - because they are so filled with personality. How they enjoy meeting and greeting others - they are like a Queen and King. Thanks for letting me use their photos.

      Thank you too cameciob. I have had so much fun in my life too with dogs. And I am so glad that my parents let me grow up with them - even let me have my own. They are special.

      Thanks for the comments.

    • cameciob profile image


      8 years ago

      BkCreative, what an awesome hub. I love dogs and I know I was very happy around them. When I was in my country i always had a dor or more, sometime one living inside and others outside in our community that, me and my familly, took care of. They were homless dogs in Bucharest. They always made me smile and relieved my stress. I hope lots of people will read your hub and appreciate their little companions. Rated up and voted.

    • theherbivorehippi profile image


      8 years ago from Holly, MI

      Oh my gosh....I just love this hub..of course I am partial! lol My babies are famous. I just told Malachi and Shiloh that you used them for a hub and they are just prancing around with swollen heads. Really great information here though for sure!! I never understand why when we are out walking so many dogs growl at us and are so unsocial. I just don't get it. My dogs love all dogs, big or small and that's how they should be. It's important. Great hub on such an important hub. I will be linking this to my hubs for sure!


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