Quick Guide for Children’s Therapy Dog Requirements


Everything you need to know about children's therapy dog requirements. What does it actually take to be a real therapy dog?

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You guys, the idea to someday train & own a therapy dog is still alive and well. With the recent wave of “emotional therapy” animals boarding flights I’ve become more and more interested in what it actually means to be a true “therapy dog.”

I’ve been reading, researching, and talking with dog trainers and learning so much! And! Contrary to popular belief, not all super sweet and cuddly dogs meet the requirements to be a therapy dog! Isn’t that interesting??

Did you know that if your dog is too friendly it won’t make the cut??

Yep, doggy “kisses” are not ideal (or even allowed) in most hospitals, schools, airports, and rehabilitation centers for both the safety of the patient and the dog.

The duties of a children’s therapy dog require them to be friendly, patient, and above all provide comfort and companionship to those with disabilities, sickness, and/or mental illnesses.

It’s been proven that interacting with a therapy dog can lessen emotional stress. According to UCLA People-Animal Connection, “The simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response. Humans interacting with animals have found that petting the animal promoted the release of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin- all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods.”

Although dogs cannot cure all, he or she can certainly help lighten and lift the mindset of a patient to the point of recovery and even personal growth.

I am a firm believer that when it comes to healing, dogs may just be the best medicine.

Children Therapy Dog Requirements

  • Older than 12 months. Many organizations don’t allow puppies because they are simply not mature enough.
  • A calm demeanor and desire to interact with people. The dog must be kind to all strangers.
  • Resistance to loud sounds. Children tend to be loud. Meanwhile, emergencies in hospitals can produce a lot of noise. The dog shouldn’t be sensitive to loud sounds.
  • Excellent Health. The dog needs to be completely healthy to interact with children.


Children Therapy Dog Training

You can train a dog to become a therapy pet on your own or hire a private trainer. If you decide to do it without assistance, you can refer to the Canine Good Citizen test.

To pass the CGC test and become a good children therapy dog, your pet should:

  • Accept a friendly stranger even when the owner is around.
  • Walk calmly on a loose leash with the owner.
  • Sit politely and allow the stranger (child) to pet it.
  • Allow someone other than the owner to check ears and feet (as if by the vet).
  • Walkthrough a crowd with the owner without displaying negative reactions to anyone.
  • Respond to basic behavioral commands, such as sitting and staying in place.
  • Come to the owner when called.
  • Behave when another dog is around.
  • Stay focused on a game with the owner (checks to see if the dog can focus on a certain task).
  • Be able to stay away from the owner for a short period.

children's therapy dog requirements

Children Therapy Dog Certification

Once you pass the CGC test or complete personal dog training, you need to get your dog certified as a therapy dog.

You can apply to one of the organizations recommended by the American Kennel Club. Each organization has a set of steps you as an owner should take to obtain the therapy dog certification.

American Kennel Club explains how to become a therapy dog for children and earn the AKC Therapy Dog Title right here. During the certification, professionals assess your dog’s behavior to make sure it’s suitable for working with kids.

To maintain the certification:

  • All vaccinations must be up to date.
  • The dog should undergo health check-ups annually.
  • The owner should provide a negative fecal test report annually (for some organizations).

As you can see, not it takes a special “breed” (pun completely intended) to be a Children’s Therapy Dog.

Is your fur baby a therapy doggy? Do you have plans for it to be?

If so you can also refer to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. ATD provides testing, certification, registration, and endless support for members who volunteer with dogs to visit hospitals, special needs centers, schools, nursing homes, and other facilities.

The UCLA People-Animal Connection teams make more than 1,000 patient visits per month, seeing more than 12,000 critically ill children and adult patients a year. Support the PAC Program today.

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