Therapy Dogs: Who They Are & What Do They Do

In a world full of stress and challenges, our furry friends can make all the difference. So if you’ve ever run into a Golden Labrador or a Great Dane at a hospital or senior care home, chances are they’re volunteering their time there as a therapy dog. But what are therapy dogs? And what do they even do?

Well, these furry superheroes might not wear capes – but they come with the unique ability to bring joy, comfort, and healing to people in need. In this blog post, we’re going to dive into what makes a therapy dog, what they do, and what breeds fit the best in different therapeutic environments.

Table of contents

  • What are therapy dogs?
  • Are therapy dogs the same as service & emotional support dogs?
  • A short history of therapy dogs & their work
  • What do therapy dogs do?
    • Therapeutic visitation dogs
    • Animal-assisted therapy dogs
    • Facility therapy dogs
    • Crisis response therapy dogs
  • How therapy dogs add value to care environments
    • Improved physical symptoms
    • Improved emotional wellbeing
    • Reduced social isolation
    • Improved learning & cognition
  • Certifying and training a therapy dog
    • Start early
    • Give clicker training a whirl
    • Get informed about registered training programs
    • Enroll in a registered training class
  • Which dog breeds fit best into care settings?
    • Golden Retrievers
    • Labrador Retrievers
    • Poodles
    • Beagles
    • Newfoundlands
  • Spreading care & comfort – one nuzzle at a time

What are therapy dogs?

Therapy dogs are specially trained canines that offer support and companionship to people in care settings. These might include:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Areas afflicted with disasters
  • Schools, especially where students have learning disabilities
A therapy dog interacts with patients at a hospital

These dogs provide a unique kind of care through their presence and interactions. They bring a comforting, unconditionally loving presence to facilities where patients might be recovering from injury or trauma, and might be feeling lonely or anxious. They also provide solace to family members who might be grieving a loved one. They’re especially popular in pediatric wards, where children who are recuperating from disease or injury feel cheered up at the sight of a friendly dog.

Because of their role, therapy dogs must be well-equipped to navigate diverse environments. They should also be able interact with a range of different people with different needs. As a result, some dogs might be better suited to this role as a result of their temperament. (We cover a few of these below.)

Ideally, therapy dogs are:

  • Friendly and sociable by temperament
  • Comfortable being surrounded by and interacting with different people
  • Attuned to the needs of people in care settings
  • Able to cooperate with hospital or care home staff
  • Able to easily adapt to new environments
  • Pliable to their handler’s instructions

Are therapy dogs the same as service & emotional support dogs?

No, therapy dogs aren’t the same as service and emotional support dogs. Here are some key differences in their roles:



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