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Ever read about therapy dogs offering just the right touch to an elderly individual or someone in need of comfort and think “my dog can do that?” Well, good news: He can! Here’s how:

1. Basic Training: The AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Test

All therapy dogs need to be under control and have basic training. Some therapy groups require that the dog pass the Canine Good Citizen test before taking the group’s therapy test. CGC is a great starting point for all potential therapy dogs because your dog will learn basic good manners in CGC including come, sit, stay, down, and how to respond appropriately around other dogs. Click here to find a CGC trainer/evaluator in your area.

2. Do Your Homework About Therapy Dog Organizations

When you join a local therapy dog group, you’ll meet experienced therapy dog handlers who can teach you the skills that you need when volunteering in therapy settings. Therapy organizations also provide members with the necessary liability insurance for when they are volunteering. Learn about the different organizations and their requirements here.

Before you select one, though, think about if you have a particular school, hospital, or other facility in your town in mind. If so, first call and ask to speak to the person who handles volunteers and ask the volunteer coordinator if there is a therapy dog program. You may find out that the therapy dog group at the facility you choose registers all of its therapy dogs through one organization. You can save yourself some time if you know this early on. You could also ask if you can visit and watch the therapy dogs before your dog is registered with a group. If you do this, you’ll make the visit without your dog.

If you don’t know of a facility in your town where you’d like to work, contact an AKC Club and ask if any of the club members are doing therapy dog work. Local dog trainers are usually aware of the local therapy dog groups and activities.

3. Register with A Therapy Organization

Now that you have selected a therapy dog organization, you’re ready to get the application (from their web page) and complete the application requirements.

We hope that you and your dog enjoy volunteering in an animal-assisted therapy setting to improve the lives of others. After you’ve made 50 visits, you can apply for the AKC Therapy Dog title.

Reminder: Therapy Dogs vs. Service Dogs

Therapy dogs are dogs who volunteer with their owners/handlers to help other people in settings such as schools, nursing homes etc. Therapy dogs do not have the same special access as service dogs. This means they can’t go on planes, in restaurants, etc. just because they are therapy dogs.

Service dogs are dogs who help an individual person who has a disability. Service dogs are permitted in public places.
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Canine Good Citizen (CGC)

This program is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior. In CGC, dogs who pass the 10 step CGC test can earn a certificate and/or the official AKC CGC title.
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