ACA Blog

Amy Johnson
Jan 14, 2010

My dog would be a great therapy dog! What next?

A friend of mine had been in the hospital for weeks experiencing a combination of pain, boredom and a disconnection from her loved ones. She tried texting, facebooking, watching TV, striking up conversation with the nurses but what finally roused her out of her funk was hearing the familiar jingling sounds sound outside her room. She sat upright instantly, wondering desperately if it could possibly be a dog. She said that once she was able to pet and hug her furry visitor, her spirits were lifted.

Laughter and positive emotions have a healing effect. This is just a small example of the power of animal assisted activities. Using the human-animal bond in infirmed settings continues to grow in popularity around the country and is used more and more in schools and counseling settings. Many therapists know this, but what they dont know is how to certify their dog. If you think your dog has all the makings of a great therapy dog, here are a few organizations that can help.

Therapy Dogs International (TDI) certifies healthy dogs over the age of one at locations throughout the U.S. TDI trained evaluators test to ensure the dogs can sit, stay even when the guardian leaves the room, leave it (dropped pills can be deadly), coming when called as well as test the reactions of the dogs around a variety of hospital equipment. Dogs should be friendly and seek attention from people as well as tolerate other dogs. TDI does not train your dog, only evaluate him. Liability insurance is available once your dog is certified. For more information or to find an evaluation site near you, visit

The American Kennel Club sponsors the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program. The CGC program awards certification for dogs (mixed or purebreds) who are good in the home and in the community. CGC does not certify therapy dogs; however, passing the CGC is an excellent precursor to taking the TDI certification exam. The test items include accepting a stranger, sitting politely to be pet, appearance and grooming, walking nicely on a leash, walking through a crowd, sit and down on command, stay, come when called, reactions to other dogs, distractibility and separation from his guardian. For more information on the Canine Good Citizen certificate, see

Finally, the Delta Society is the largest and most renowned certifier of therapeutic animals. In addition to dogs, the Delta Society certifies all domestic animals including pot bellied pigs, llamas, cats, birds and pocket pets (guinea pigs, rabbits, rats) and more. Becoming a Pet Partner is possible even without a pet of your own. Animals do not have to be from a breeder; in fact, almost 30% of all Pet Partners were adopted from a shelter or rescue. Training inc ludes preparing yourself and your animal for visits, identifying and decreasing stress in your animal, special needs of specific client groups, facility and safety codes and more. Training can be done at a 12 hour hands-on course or a home study version. Visit for more information.

If you have any experiences using animal assisted therapy or going through the training, please let me know! Id love to include your work in a future blog!

Amy Johnson is a counselor, lecturer, founder, and program director of the non-profit organization, Teacher's Pet: Dogs and Kids Learning Together.

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