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:
- Certified/registered by an AKC recognized therapy dog organization.
- 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 PER FACILITY/AGENCY.
- FOR A SINGLE FACILITY: As an example, if you see multiple clients over a 2 hour time period on the same day, that is ONE VISIT. [In a hospital, you visit Mr. Jones, Ms. Smith, Mr. Roberts, Ms. White, this is ONE VISIT, not 4 visits].
- For each day/date at a facility, no matter how many clients one sees, this counts as 1 visit. If you take a break and return to the same facility on the same day, this counts as ONE VISIT.
- For MULTIPLE FACILITIES: Example: You do therapy work on your day off. In the morning, you go to an assisted living facility. You take your dog home at lunch to rest. In the afternoon, you go to a school. THIS IS 2 visits, no matter how many clients you saw per facility.
- AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD). Must have completed 400 visits.
- AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX). Must have completed 200 visits.
- AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA). Must have completed 100 visits.
- AKC Therapy Dog (THD). Must have completed 50 visits.
- AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN). Must have completed 10 visits.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 .
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 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.
Learn About Therapy Dog Organizations
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:
- Therapy Dog Record of Visits Form (you may use the AKC form or one of your own), or,
- Certificate or wallet card from a certifying organization indicating the dog has made 50 or more visits or,
- 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.
Add Canine Good Citizen to Therapy Dog Titles
Effective July 2015, dogs who are registered with an AKC recognized therapy organization and have earned an AKC Therapy Dog Title may receive the official Canine Good Citizen Title when the owner submits the CGC Therapy Dog Grandfather Application.
American Kennel Club
Performance Events Dept – Therapy Dogs
8051 Arco Corporate Drive
Raleigh, NC 27617