How to train a therapy dog

Updated February 21, 2017

A therapy dog requires different training than a service dog for the disabled. A therapy dog's goal is to offer comfort and companionship to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, mental centers; or visit libraries and schools to "listen" to young children read. In addition to basic obedience training, therapy dogs need special training to pass the AKC Canine Good CitizenĀ® Certificate Test (CGC) and Therapy Dog International requirements before entering a therapy dog program. Read on to learn how to train a therapy dog.

Choose a dog with a calm, friendly demeanor. Hyperactive dogs or those who show no interest in the world around them will not be good therapy dogs.

Use gentle, positive reinforcement to teach the dog basic commands. He must learn to come, sit, stay and down. All therapy dogs must be housebroken, have good manners and obedience skills.

Teach your dog it's OK for strangers to approach you and talk with you. Your dog cannot become protective if someone touches you, shakes your hand or pats you on the shoulder.

Walk your dog in public places and take him to a variety of outdoor events, such as parades, carnivals or flea markets so he gets accustomed to unusual noises and crowds.

Educate your dog that certain behaviors are not acceptable, including jumping, sniffing, barking, licking and growling.

Maintain your dog's health and appearance by taking him for routine check-ups with your local veterinarian. This experience will prepare him to allow the CGC examiner to groom him and inspect him without being shy or resistant.

Teach your dog to heel and not pull and strain on his leash. To pass the CGC test, he must walk with you on a loose leash to prove you are in full control.

Take your dog to the dog park to learn how to play well with others. A therapy dog must learn to show no more than casual interest in other dogs when you stop to talk with another dog owner.


Remember "down" is not a position that may be comfortable for your dog, so don't try to make him stay in that position for long periods. The dog must learn to let a stranger pet him.


It is very important that a therapy dog be comfortable with children and not respond negatively if a child tugs an ear or touches the dog in a way he might not like. The dog can't show signs of shyness, try to go another person or break position to pass the CGC test. The dog will be tested by a AKC Canine Good CitizenĀ® evaluator before a designation of therapy dog is given.

Things You'll Need

  • Plain buckle collar or harness
  • Leash
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