Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs are Not The Same

When someone hears that I train therapy dogs they immediately ask how their dog can become a therapy dog. If you know anything about me, you know I answer most questions with a series of questions right back at you.

  1. Do you know the duties of a therapy dog?
  2. Why are you interested in having a therapy dog?
  3. Do you know the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog?

I understand it can be confusing and most people have no idea what therapy dogs do or why they are important.
A therapy dog provides comfort to those in need and a service dog provides a service to his owner/handler. 

For example: I bring my therapy dog to the hospital to visit patients recovering from illness. We bring therapy dogs to visit senior citizens in assisted living homes. Volunteering with your dog at an approved facility provides you an opportunity to bring comfort and joy to others.

I want to make sure you have the right intentions and that your goal is to become a volunteer to help others. Therapy dogs DO NOT have the same rights as service dogs. So, if you just want to bring your dog with you on an airplane or to the mall then a therapy dog is not the answer.

Let’s assume you want to volunteer and would like to begin training your dog to become a Certified Therapy Dog. You should be honest with yourself about the type of dog you have and if your dog would be a good fit for this role.
-Does your dog have excellent temperament around people and other dogs?
-Are you willing to train your dog at a high standard of obedience?
-Are you confident with your handling skills and can handle your dog in public without incident
-Do you know the liability issues that come with putting your dog in these sensitive environments?
-Can you commit to the bathing, vaccination, health and membership required of therapy dogs?

You’ll need to begin a step by step process for training and certification. It starts with obedience training. If your dog does not have excellent obedience and manners you will need to master this before going any further. Once your dog is good with obedience then I suggest you take the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. This test is a good way to measure your dogs ability to follow your cues and apply your leadership skills. Once you have passed the CGC test you can start the process of testing for Therapy.  Handlers and their dogs are tested as a team for therapy dog certification. As a handler you must have excellent handling skills showing confidence and control of your dog.

Research the reputable groups that offer therapy dog certifications. Therapy Dogs International and Pet Partners are the two popular groups in our area. They have a good reputation and most hospitals, schools, and libraries will accept dogs that are certified and volunteering through these organizations.

Review their requirements and items on the test so you can prepare accordingly.
Therapy Dogs International

Phase I Use a 6 foot leash and either a flat buckle or snap-in collar (non corrective) or a harness (non-corrective).

TEST 1: TDI ENTRY TABLE (Simulated as a Hospital Reception Desk) The dog/handler teams are lined up to be checked in (simulating a visit). The evaluator (“volunteer coordinator”) will go down the line of registrants and greet each new arrival including each dog. At the same time the collars will be checked, as well as nails, ears and grooming and lifting of all 4 paws and tail, which must be lifted if applicable. If the dog has a short cropped tail it should be touched.

TEST 2: CHECK-IN AND OUT OF SIGHT (One Minute) The handler will be asked to check in. After the check-in has been completed the handler will be escorted by a helper to where the handler is supposed to sit. All dogs will be placed in a down position on the handler’s left side keeping teams at least 8 feet apart. Now the handler will start completing the paperwork. Once all teams have been placed, the helper(s) will ask the handler(s) if they can hold their dogs. Now the handler(s) will leave for “one minute”. The handler(s) can give the “stay” command verbally or by hand signal or both. The helper(s) can talk to and pet the dog(s). The dog(s) can sit, lie down, stand or walk around within the confines of the leash.

TEST 3: GETTING AROUND PEOPLE As the dog/handler team walks toward the patients’ rooms, there will be various people standing around. Some of the people will try visiting with the dog. The dog/handler team must demonstrate that the dog can withstand the approach and touching by several people from all sides at the same time and is willing to visit and walk around a group of people.

TEST 4: GROUP SIT/STAY The evaluator will ask all the participants to line up with their dogs in a heel position (w/dog on left or right), with 8 ft. between each team. Now the handlers will put their dogs in a sit/stay position. The handlers will give the sit command to the dogs. The evaluator will tell the handlers to leave their *If the dog is on a longer leash, a knot must be made in the leash to mark 6 ft. The handler must drop the extra leash.
dogs. The handlers will step out to the end of their 6 ft. leash, turn around and face the dog(s) and wait for the evaluator’s command to return to their dog(s). (The evaluator will give the return command immediately).

TEST 5: GROUP DOWN/STAY Same as test number 4, except dogs will now be in a down/ stay.

TEST 6: RECALL ON A 20 FT. LEASH All handlers will be seated. Three dogs at a time will be fitted with a long line. The reason we fit more than one dog with a long line at the same time is to save time. The handler will continue to hold the 6 ft leash while the long line is fitted by a helper. To avoid any kind of incident, the evaluator will make sure that the handler is holding the 6 ft leash until the dog has been placed and is ready to be tested for the recall. One handler at a time will take the dog to a designated area which is out of reach of the other dogs even with a 20 ft. line. The evaluator will then give the command: Down your dog!. The handler can down the dog either by voice and or by hand signal. The evaluator will give the command: Leave your dog!. The handler will tell the dog to stay either by voice and or by hand signal. The handler now will turn away from the dog and walk in a straight line to the end of the 20 ft. lead. The handler will turn and face the dog. The evaluator immediately will tell the handler to call the dog. The handler will call the dog, either by voice, hand signal or both.

TEST 7: VISITING WITH A PATIENT The dog should show willingness to visit a person and demonstrate that it can be made readily accessible for petting (i.e. small dogs will be placed on a person’s lap or held; medium dogs will sit on a chair or stand close to the patient to be easily reached, and larger dogs will be standing). Phase II TEST 8:

TESTING OF REACTIONS TO UNUSUAL SITUATIONS The dog handler team will be walking in a straight line. The dog can be on either side, or slightly behind the handler; the leash must not be tight. The evaluator will ask the handler to have the dog sit (the handler may say sit or use a hand signal or both). Next the evaluator will ask the handler to down the dog (the handler may say down or use a hand signal or both). Next continuing walking in a straight line, the handler will be asked to make a right, left and an about turn at the evaluator’s discretion. The following distractions will be added to the heel on a loose leash. a. The team will be passing a person on crutches. b. Someone running by calling “excuse me, excuse me” waving hands (this person is running up from behind the dog. It could also be a person on a bicycle, roller blades, or
a skateboard etc). c. Another person will be walking by and drop something making a loud startling noise (a tin can filled with pebbles or a clipboard). At an indoor test there may be a running vacuum cleaner (realistic in a facility). d. Next the team will be requested to make an about turn. e. And then a left turn. f. Then the team should be requested to make a right turn, going back parallel toward the starting point in a straight line.

TEST 9: LEAVE-IT; PART ONE The dog handler/team meets a person in a wheelchair. The dog should approach the person and visit. The person in the wheelchair, after briefly interacting with the dog, will offer the dog a treat by holding the treat steady in the hand while enticing the dog. The handler must instruct the dog to leave it. It is up to the handler as to what kind of verbal command they use to keep the dog from licking or taking the food. The handler should explain to the patient why the dog cannot eat a treat while visiting (i.e. dog has food allergies).

TEST 10: LEAVE-IT; PART TWO The dog handler will be walking in a straight line with the dog at heel. There will be a piece of food in the path of the dog. The dog is not allowed to lick or eat the food. There should also be a bowl of water in the path of the dog. The dog is not allowed to drink.

TEST 11: MEETING ANOTHER DOG A volunteer with a demo dog will walk past the dog handler/team, turn around and ask the handler a question. After a brief conversation, the two handlers part.

TEST 12: ENTERING THROUGH A DOOR TO VISIT AT THE FACILITY A person should be able to go through the entrance ahead of the dog/handler team. The dog handler team is ready to enter through a door to a facility. The handler first has to put the dog in a sit, stand, or down stay, whatever is most comfortable for the dog.

TEST 13: REACTION TO CHILDREN The children will be running and yelling, playing ball, dropping objects, and doing what children usually do while playing. 1. The handler will walk with the dog past playing children (distance from the children must be at least 20 feet). 2. a. The dog must lie down beside the handler. b. The handler will simulate reading a book while the dog is lying down. c. The dog MUST have his back to the children.

By | 2017-02-20T15:43:19+00:00 May 12th, 2016|Informational|

About the Author:

Marti Michalis is the owner of 2 Ruff House Pet Resorts in Southern California and a speaker for the International Boarding & Pet Services Association. She is a Certified Dog Trainer, CPDT-KA, and a professional member of The Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She spends most of her time assessing dogs and helping owners with temperament testing and behavior modification.