How Can I Teach My Puppy to Become a Therapy Dog?

One of our weekly puppy care clients recently left me the following note, asking a great question:  “Harvey graduated puppy school and I am interested in training him to help others cope with emotional or social issues.  Can you suggest any training?”  What a great goal for a new pet parent to have for their puppy!!

Puppy to Become a Therapy Dog

My response to her will also help many other puppy owners who have a goal of having their pups help people when “they grow up.”  So, here is our recommendation to her as well as to you!

It sounds like you are interested in having Harvey become a Certified Therapy Dog and that is awesome!!  Here is an article I wrote that will answer most of your questions: How Can My Dog Become a Therapy Dog?

Once you read that article, my recommendation to you is a little different because he is so young.  Most therapy dog certification organizations require that dogs are at least one year old before they test.  So, between now and then, here are some suggestions to keep you going in the right direction!

  • Keep doing what you’re doing!  It is awesome that you started working with him!  It would be best to enroll him in the next levels of training and to continue learning how to work with each other.  As he gets older, he will protest more and begin to test the waters to see what antics he can get away with and if he REALLY needs to listen to you.  Furthering his obedience training will help you through those trying times and continue the bond you creating.
  • Expose him to as much as you can.  Children, elderly people, loud people, quiet people,  big dogs, little dogs, loud noises, grass, concrete, tile, cats, stairs, everything, and anything.  Reward him for not being scared when he encounters new things.  The more you can expose him to now, the better he will be when you bring him to work with new people in new locations.
  • Pre-Test If passing the therapy dog test when he turns one is your ultimate goal, then make passing the AKC Canine Good Citizen test a milestone goal by the time he is about 10 months old.  This test is a good baseline for the Therapy Dog test and if you can pass it, you’re well on your way to becoming a certified therapy dog team.
  • Plan Ahead  Again, if you want to pass the therapy dog test when he reaches a year old, then research Therapy Dog Classes in your area at least 3 months prior, this way you can enroll and finish the class by the time he turns 1.
  • Don’t get discouraged.  You will get frustrated.  He will get bored.  You won’t WANT to practice.  He won’t always be perfect.  There will be plenty of situations where you may say to yourself, “What was I thinking?  He’ll NEVER be a therapy dog!”  Just take a deep breath and stop practicing.  Play with him instead and focus on what he does that is good and how incredible he is.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and dog training doesn’t happen overnight, either.  You’ll get where you need to be as a team and at the rate you need to.  Just keep in mind that although being certified when he is a year old may be your goal, it’s okay if it doesn’t happen that way.  Plenty of people realize that making this a positive experience instead of focusing on a date makes it much easier.  (Myself included!  My dog didn’t become certified until she was 2!)
  • Your investment will pay off.  The more effort and dedication you put into training him now, it will come back to you tenfold in the years to come.



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