AKC Therapy Dog Program


What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

From working with a child who is learning to read to visiting a senior in assisted living, therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people.

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.

The Purpose of This Program

The purpose of this program is to recognize AKC dogs and their owners who have given their time and helped people by volunteering as a therapy dog and owner team.

  • The AKC Therapy Dog™ program awards official AKC titles to dogs who have worked to improve the lives of the people they have visited.
  • AKC Therapy Dog titles can be earned by dogs who have been certified by AKC recognized therapy dog organizations and have performed the required number of visits.
  • AKC does not certify therapy dogs; the certification and training is done by qualified therapy dog organizations. The certification organizations are the experts in this area and their efforts should be acknowledged and appreciated.

Why Did AKC Start A Therapy Dog Title?

AKC has received frequent, ongoing requests from dog owners who participate in therapy work to "acknowledge the great work our dogs are doing." Many of our constituents are understandably proud of their dogs. Earning an AKC Therapy Dog title builds on the skills taught in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy® and Canine Good Citizen® programs which creates a sound and friendly temperament needed by a successful therapy dog.

Therapy Dog Titles

  • AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN)
    Must have completed 10 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog (THD)
    Must have completed 50 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA)
    Must have completed 100 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX)
    Must have completed 200 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD)
    Must have completed 400 visits.

How to Earn the Title: Qualifications

To earn an AKC Therapy Dog™ title, you and your dog must meet the following criteria:

  1. Certified/registered by an AKC recognized therapy dog organization.
  2. Perform the required number of visits for the title for which you are applying. For your convenience in helping you track your visits, you can use the Therapy Dog Record of Visits Sheet.
  • NOTE: A VISIT IS ONE DAY.  If you see multiple clients over a 2 hour time period on the same day, that is ONE VISIT.  For each day/date at a facility, no matter how many clients one sees, this counts as 1 visit.  
  1. AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD). Must have completed 400 visits.
  2. AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX). Must have completed 200 visits.
  3. AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA). Must have completed 100 visits.
  4. AKC Therapy Dog (THD). Must have completed 50 visits.
  5. AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN). Must have completed 10 visits.
  6. The dog must be registered or listed with AKC.

All dogs are eligible to earn AKC Therapy Dog titles, including purebreds and mixed breeds. To earn an AKC Therapy Dog title, dogs must be registered or listed with AKC and have a number. This includes any one of these three options:

  1. AKC Registration Number (purebreds with registered parents)
    This is often known as the "AKC papers" provided to a dog owner by a breeder. If you have received a registration paper from your breeder or previous owner you can register online.
  2. PAL Number (purebreds not registerable)
    PAL is Purebred Alternative Listing. PAL (formerly called ILP) is a program that allows unregistered dogs of registerable breeds to compete in AKC Performance and Companion Events. PAL dogs include the many wonderful purebred dogs who may have come from shelters or rescue without AKC registration.
  3. Canine Partners Number (for mixed breeds or non registerable)
    Used by mixed breed dogs (and dogs otherwise not registered with AKC such as some purebreds from other countries). A special Canine Partners Therapy Dog Enrollment Form is available for mixed breed Therapy Dogs needing to obtain a dog number in order to receive their Therapy Dog Title. This form must be submitted together with the Therapy Dog Title Application.

Apply for an AKC Therapy Dog Title

If your dog meets the criteria and you would like to apply for an AKC Therapy Dog title, please complete this AKC Therapy Dog Title Application and mail to the AKC address shown on the application with a $20 recording fee.

AKC accepts the following forms of payment: Check or money order made out to "American Kennel Club" and Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express.

If your application is not approved due to not meeting the qualifications, you will be notified and your fee will be refunded.

Therapy Dog Organizations

Since the 1980's, there have been significant advances in the field of animal assisted therapy and the use of therapy dogs. Organized therapy dog groups provide educational material to volunteers, they screen both volunteers and dogs, and they provide liability insurance for when the dog and handler are volunteering in a therapy setting.

We receive frequent requests from AKC Therapy Dog title holders for AKC to recognize that Canine Good Citizen test items are included in the therapy dog assessment administered by a therapy organization. Effective July 2015, dogs who are 1) registered with an AKC recognized therapy organization and 2) have earned an AKC Therapy Dog title may receive the official Canine Good Citizen® title when the owner submits this application. Because the recognized therapy organizations already test all of the CGC items on their therapy tests, the dog does not have to take the Canine Good Citizen test.

Apply for CGC Title along with Therapy Dog

Therapy dog certification organizations are the experts in this field. It is their dedication that has organized and advanced the work of therapy dogs and their efforts should be acknowledged and appreciated. The following certification organizations are recognized by the AKC. A dog must be certified by one of these organizations to be eligible to receive the AKC Therapy Dog title.

AKC would like to thank the following national therapy dog registration/certification organizations for their assistance during the launching of the AKC Therapy Dog title:

Therapy Groups Listed Alphabetically

Documenting Visits

To earn the AKC Therapy Dog™ title, you and your dog must have completed at least 50 therapy visits. These visits must be documented with time, date, location, and a signature of a staff person at the facility (e.g., school, hospital, etc.). This documentation can be achieved by submitting one of the following:

  1. Therapy Dog Record of Visits Form (you may use the AKC form or one of your own), or,
  2. Certificate or wallet card from a certifying organization indicating the dog has made 50 or more visits or,
  3. Letter from the facility (nursing home, school, hospital, etc.) where the dog served as a therapy dog. Letters must be on facility letterhead. Contact information for verification purposes should include facility name, address and contact person's name, phone number and/or email address. For a sample letter, click here.

How to Get Your Wheaten Into Therapy

By Dorice Stancher

On June 27, 2011 the American Kennel Club made history again by recognizing the contributions of therapy dogs and creating the AKC Therapy Dog™ title. Therapy dog certification organizations have been credited with advancing the work of visiting dogs and are experts in the field. They screen volunteers, provide educational material, arrange visits, and provide liability insurance and guidance for those interested in this selfless act of kindness.

According to the AKC website, in order to be eligible to receive this award they must be certified/registered by an AKC recognized therapy dog organization, perform at least 50 visits, and registered or listed with the AKC. This can be done through the AKC registration number for purebreds, like our Wheaten Terriers. There is also the Purebred Alternative Listing or PAL program and the AKC Canine Partners Program. Visits are documented using the AKC form which is downloadable from the website, through verification from a recognized organization by wallet card, or a letter from the facility (details and an example are on the website).

Wheaten Terriers have a penchant for making friends wherever they go and it should come as no surprise that they excel at therapy work provided they receive obedience training and have the right temperament. The AKC Star Puppy program and later the Canine Good Citizen® or CGC are great places to start especially since the latter is a foundation for many of the evaluating tests of the different approved organizations. What makes therapy work testing different is the observation of both dog and handler, working as a team and interacting with others. When testing, evaluators look to see not only if the dog is sociable, but also to see if the owner handles their dog in a way that minimizes risk, if they are able to "control" the visit, and interact appropriately with those they visit.

When introducing dogs to the various pieces of medical equipment in a training setting, care should be taken to keep things positive. Trainers will often lure dogs to approach the strange item, whether it be a wheelchair, walker, four-footed cane, or crutches, then click and treat. The goal is to build confidence around these items so that the dog is relaxed and can do the job it was meant to do. Also a firm grasp of the "leave it" command can be a lifesaver since pills and other foreign objects may appear on a hospital or nursing home floor.

While it takes time to train and certify a dog for this work, it is well worth the effort to see the smiles on the faces of those you meet. There is nothing quite like it.

Contact Us

American Kennel Club
Performance Events Dept - Therapy Dogs
8051 Arco Corporate Drive
Raleigh, NC 27617
(919) 816-3527