Therapy Dog Training Certification: How Do I Get My Dog Certified?

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How Do I Certify My Dog As A Trained Therapy Dog? - White puppy wearing blue therapy dog training vest.
How Do I Certify My Dog As A Trained Therapy Dog?

If you have benefited from the love and support of a dog in your life, you will know what a big difference it can make.

So you may well be motivated to look for ways that you and your dog can help others. Training your pup to become a therapy dog that works to provide emotional support to vulnerable people can be a great option.

We have recently published articles including What is a Therapy Dog and What Do They Do, the 15 Best Dog Breeds for Therapy Dogs, and How To Train Your Dog As A Therapy Dog.

Now you might be asking yourself: when it comes to therapy dog training certification where do I start? How do I get my dog certified?

Well, you’re in luck because today’s article, we are going to look at the final steps of the process:

  • How to certify your dog as a therapy dog.
  • How to start volunteering and working as a therapy dog.
  • What to expect from the therapy dog experience in general.

Don’t skip this last section, because while working with your dog to support others is very fulfilling, it is also hard work. It is best to be prepared for the experience.

Contents & Quick Navigation

How To Certify Your Dog As A Therapy Dog

Once you have completed the process of training your dog to display the behaviors and perform the tasks required of a therapy dog, you will need to have them certified as ready and able to perform this function.

There are numerous agencies within the United States that will test and certify that your animal is able to work as a therapy dog.

To decide which agency is right for you and your pooch, it can be a good idea to speak with the local hospital or support agency with which you want to volunteer and ask them which agency they prefer.

If they already work with therapy dogs, they will probably have dealt with a certifying agency in the past and have a preference.

While the exact process will vary a little depending on which agency with which you decide to certify, in broad strokes the process is generally the same. 

An observer will spend time with you and your dog to determine whether they have the right characteristics and training to work as a therapy dog.

This will include things such as how your dog responds to strangers and to other dogs, how your dog is during petting, and how they react to noises, smells, and other distractions.

If they do well on the observation test, you and your dog will be taken on a test visit to an institution like the one with which you want to volunteer, to see how they behave within that environment.

After this, they will recommend your dog for certification or possibly for further training and development work.

Other Documentation

In addition to passing a test to show that your dog is capable of doing the required work, which is only the beginning of the process, there are a number of other things you will need to do to complete your registration.

Your dog will also probably need to have a medical exam before being registered, to ensure that they are in a healthy condition to work. Medical exams may need to be conducted every few years to maintain your dog’s certification.

As you will be accompanying your dog on therapy visits as their handler, you must also be cleared for this kind of work. This often involves a background check.

Most agencies charge a fee to test and certify your dog. There is then an annual fee to maintain your dog’s registration.

It might seem strange that you need to pay in order to volunteer with your dog to help others. But the organizations that provide these services are non-profit, and most of the people who work for them work on a volunteer basis.

Registration fees help cover the cost of completing the work of both registering animals and placing them with facilities that need their help.

List Of Therapy Dog Certifying Agencies

While this list is not exhaustive, these are the main national agencies within the United States that provide certification and qualification for therapy dogs.

Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Based in Wyoming, as well as certifying therapy dogs, the Alliance of Therapy Dogs also matches therapy dogs with local facilities that are looking to take advantage of the service.

There is a one-off $10 expense for the initial registration of your dog, and then there’s a fee of $30 per year to maintain your dog’s registration. This supports the work of the organization that is run by volunteers. They place therapy dogs in many settings, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehab facilities, college campuses, and more.

Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs

Based in New Jersey, Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs offers testing and certification on a regular basis at their facility in Morris Plains, NJ, and long-distance testing in areas where they have a tester within two hours driving distance.

The initial test costs $20 to complete, and then there is a fee of $40 per year to renew the certification.

Again, this money is used to support the work of the organization placing the therapy dogs with facilities that need them, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, and wellness events, and even organizing individual home visits.

Love on a Leash

Love on a Leash is based in California, but it has chapters all over the country including in Arkansas, Illinois, and Massachusetts. 

It costs $50 to register a new therapy dog team, which includes both the dog and the handler. There are additional fees to add additional dogs and handlers.

Again, registration fees are used to support the work of the organization that’s placing pups with facilities that need their support.

Pet Partners

Pet Partners, previously known as Delta Society, is one of the biggest organizations in the country. It has been active since 1977 and has more than 13,000 registered dogs that make three million visits each year.

Based on Washington State, they are active throughout the country, and both register animals and organize volunteering opportunities.

Therapy Dogs International

How To Start Volunteering And Working As A Therapy Dog

It is very rare for you to be able to work with your pet as a therapy dog on a freelance basis, and most facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools, will prefer to work with an agency.

This is because the agency provides assurances about the suitability and behavior of both the pet and the handler, and the agency also provides insurance to cover any unforeseen eventualities.

So, the best way to start working as a therapy dog volunteer is to find an organization in your area and speak to them.

They may be able to register your dog or to recommend which of the national organizations they prefer to work with.

Below is a comprehensive, but not complete, list of therapy dog volunteering organizations by state.

Alabama

Alaska

  • There are no known active therapy dog organizations in Alaska, but some of the national organizations may have programs there.

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Look at neighboring states and national organizations.

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Look at neighboring states and national organizations.

Kansas

Look at neighboring states and national organizations.

Kentucky

Louisiana

Look at neighboring states and national organizations.

Maine

Look at neighboring states and national organizations.

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Look at neighboring states and national organizations.

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Look at neighboring states and national organizations.

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Puerto Rico

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Look at neighboring states and national programs.

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Look at neighboring states and national programs.

Vermont

Virginia (and DC)

Washington

West Virginia

Look at neighboring states and national programs.

Wisconsin

Look at neighboring states and national programs.

Wyoming

Look at neighboring states and national programs.

What To Expect From The Therapy Dog Experience

Actually volunteering with your pet as a therapy dog is often a very different experience than many people expect and in two main ways.

In the first instance, it is a volunteer role and agencies do not as a rule offer financial remuneration. They may or may not offer financial assistance toward expenses such as transport to and from a volunteer job.

In addition to this, most agencies will require that you pay a fee to certify your dog as a therapy dog, which will provide you with a membership that you will need to renew annually. This generally ranges from $30 to $50 per year.

So, not only will you be giving your time and energy free of charge, but you may also need to pay a modest amount to be involved in this kind of work.

The second thing is the misconception that volunteer work is all about your dog. It is about you too.

You will visit facilities with your dog, and while being close to your dog and touching them and spending time with them will provide people with excellent therapy, they are likely to want to speak to you too.

So, you need to be ready to engage with people and support them in a ways that’s similar to your therapy dog’s support.

The Verdict

If you do want to work with your dog as a therapy dog to support vulnerable people, you will need to register your dog as appropriately trained for the job.

You will then need to work with an organization that will provide you with opportunities to volunteer with your dog in facilities close to where you live.

Make sure you are aware that while this work is fulfilling, it is unpaid and needs to be done because it is something you want to do.

In fact, you may even incur some modest expenses such as registration fees and transportation costs.

But if you speak to anyone who does do this type of work with their canine friend, they will tell you just how rewarding it is.

Have you done any therapy dog work?

Share your thoughts and experience with the community in the comments section below or via social media.

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Therapy Dog Certification - How Do I Get My Dog Certified? - Golden Retriever puppy wearing blue therapy dog training vest.
Therapy Dog Certification – How Do I Get My Dog Certified?

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Therapy Dog Training Certification: How Do I Get My Dog Certified? was last modified: December 28th, 2020 by LTHQ



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