The Dark Side of Therapy Dogs: Can You Spot The Fake?

Last month, another pet sitting professional emailed me this news story about how New Yorker’s are using fake Therapy Dog or Service Dogs badges and vests to get their dogs into grocery stores, movies, clubs and anywhere else.  Let’s be honest:  this isn’t just happening in New York – it’s happening everywhere.   As a therapy dog trainer in Toms River, who works with clients to specifically train their dogs to become true therapy dog teams, this is beyond frustrating and wrong.

Dark Side of Therapy Dogs

Meet Darla – a Certified Therapy Dog

Here is a quick audio clip of another pet care professional and I talking about this subject.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and affection to people.  These people are typically in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, retirement homes, and hospice.  They have been trained in formal obedience and have been desensitized to loud noises, crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, crowds of people, and other dogs.  They provide a service to the community in which they live.  Therapy dogs are not allowed in restaurants, food stores, and many other places.

Therapy dogs need to pass a specific test to complete their certification.  During the test, dogs must follow instructions from their handler, not react to other dogs, strangers, medical devices or food.   It’s an important part of the process and helps trainers and handlers see where the dog needs improvement if it does not pass.

Therapy Dog, Daisy

Therapy Dog, Daisy

Why is it Wrong to Fake Certification?

For the same reasons, it’s wrong to fake anything in life.  If you and your dog haven’t put it in the time and energy it takes to become a reliable therapy dog team, then you shouldn’t say that you have.

Besides the honesty part of it, you could be opening yourself up to some serious liability.  What happens if Fido bites someone while you’re in the food store?  What if they somehow destroy property in a restaurant?  What if they distract a true service dog and prevent them from doing their job?  Are you going to foot the bill for any damage or loss?  Certified therapy dogs are typically insured through the certifying organization while they perform their approved work.

Think about it:  Isn’t it also negating the trainers who spend their careers teaching people and their dogs how to be a true therapy dog team?  Isn’t it negating the hard work the dog and their owner have done?  Isn’t it negating the organizations who work very hard to set the standards and promote therapy dog programs in our communities?

Simon is adored by his therapy recipients!

Simon is adored by his therapy recipients!

What’s Next?

If you really want to enjoy your dog being out with you – do the work.  Build the relationship through training, make a goal to become a certified team and spend time with your pup enriches others lives.  It will be so rewarding to see other people LOVE your dog the same way you do.

Related Articles:  How Can My Dog Become a Therapy Dog?



1 Comment

  1. Dr. Nell S. Sanders

    I am trying to find out the cost of getting my Shih Tsu certified as a therapy dog–just to provide a furry experience
    in my Retirement Community, Stone Bridge at Montgomery. He is a young-looking 10 yrs. and has charmed everyone whom he meets. I can see how much this means to our residents each day when I take him to the mailboxes and pickup dinner. He has been allowed to be a part of my play reading group and sits with me at the back of the auditorium during concerts. No one even notices him! He does not react to the crowd picking up dinner
    at 5:30 pm. Many residents have asked for him or “a dog like him” and he knows he is loved.


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