Dog may be man’s best friend and as any pet owner will tell you – dog’s provide wonderful emotional support and unconditional love. In many ways, owning a dog is therapeutic for the owner and many dogs are trained to be therapy or service dogs as well. While most people are familiar with service dogs for the visually impaired, dogs can be certified as therapy or service dogs for other reasons. In fact, dogs can be service dogs that assist people in a myriad of ways that include a guide dog for the visually impaired, a hearing dog for someone that is hearing impaired or deaf, a mobility dog for someone that needs additional stability and other mobility services, a medical alert dog for someone that may have a health condition or concern and need assistance in an emergency (for example: someone with epilepsy), and a psychiatric service dog that assists people with psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. There is a difference between a service dog and a therapy dog so it is important to understand how the two stand apart from each other, as American Kennel Club (AKC) points out, “Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability. An example of a service dog is a dog who guides an owner who is blind, or a dog who assists someone who has a physical disability. Service dogs stay with their person and have special access privileges in public places such as on planes, restaurants, etc. Therapy dogs, the dogs who will be earning the AKC Therapy Dog™ title, do not have the same special access as service dogs. It is unethical to attempt to pass off a therapy dog as a service dog for purposes such as flying on a plane or being admitted to a restaurant.” In addition to providing therapeutic support to the owner, a therapy dog can also provide therapeutic support in places like hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and schools.
For all of these services, a dog must be well trained to perform their assigned tasks. Any dog of any breed or sizecan be a therapy dog if they have the right temperament. Therapy dogs need to be friendly, not easily frightened, will sit politely for petting, is comfortable of walking on a loose lead, can walk through crowds, follows commands, and feel comfortable in new and unknown circumstances. To be a therapy dog the dog must be current on all vaccinations and have a certificate of health from your veterinarian. Many different organizations provide therapy dog certification and the American Kennel Club (AKC) compiled a handy list of the therapy dog certification organizations to make choosing the right one for you easy. If you think your dog would be a great therapy dog, consider getting them formally trained so that you, your dog, and perhaps even others can enjoy a therapeutic and loving experience that only a dog can provide.