AKC Therapy Dog

AKC Therapy Dog with a child.
Owned by: Tonya Christiansen

Overview of AKC Therapy Dog Program

The American Kennel Club (AKC) Therapy Dog Program is a testament to the remarkable impact that dogs can have on human lives. This program recognizes and celebrates the volunteer service provided by dogs and their owners in various therapeutic settings. Unlike Service Dogs, which are trained to perform tasks for individuals with disabilities, Therapy Dogs are trained to provide comfort, affection, and joy to a broad range of people.

Program Development & Purpose

The AKC Therapy Dog Program was developed in response to the growing recognition of the therapeutic effects dogs have on humans. These positive influences have been observed in numerous settings, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and disaster areas. The program’s primary aim is to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of dogs towards improving emotional, psychological, and physical aspects of human health.

Benefits of Therapy Dogs

The presence of Therapy Dogs has shown to yield significant benefits in various environments:

  • Hospitals: Patients exhibit reduced stress levels and improved recovery rates.
  • Schools: Children show improvements in reading skills and general social interactions.
  • Elderly Care Facilities: Senior citizens experience enhanced social engagement and reduced feelings of loneliness.
  • Disaster Areas: Therapy Dogs provide emotional support to individuals coping with trauma.

Therapy Dogs are known for their ability to uplift moods, provide comfort, and bring smiles in times of stress or loneliness. Their role is especially crucial in settings where individuals cannot maintain pets of their own, offering patients and residents a chance to interact with a compassionate animal companion.

Distinction from Service Dogs

It is important to distinguish Therapy Dogs from Service Dogs. Service Dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities and have legal access rights to various public spaces. In contrast, Therapy Dogs do not have the same access rights and are primarily focused on providing emotional support and comfort. Misrepresenting a Therapy Dog as a Service Dog is both unethical and illegal.

Titles & Recognition in the AKC Therapy Dog Program

The AKC Therapy Dog Program offers several titles, each reflecting a different level of commitment and experience in therapy work. These titles are a way to recognize the dedication and effort of Therapy Dogs and their handlers in providing comfort and support to people in need.

AKC Therapy Dog Titles

  • AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN): Awarded to dogs that have completed 10 therapy visits. This title is the starting point for dogs entering therapy work and demonstrates a basic commitment to the Therapy Dog program.
  • AKC Therapy Dog (THD): This title is for dogs that have completed 50 therapy visits. It signifies a deeper commitment and experience in therapy work.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA): Earned after completing 100 visits. This advanced title reflects a significant contribution to therapy work and a sustained commitment to volunteering.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX): Dogs that have completed 200 therapy visits receive this title. It represents an extensive dedication to therapy work and a profound impact on the communities they serve.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD): The highest standard, awarded to dogs that have completed 400 visits. This title honors the extraordinary commitment and exceptional service of the dog and handler in the field of therapy work.

Criteria for Earning Titles

To earn these titles, Therapy Dogs must be:

  • Registered or listed with the AKC, either through a purebred registration or an AKC Canine Partners listing for mixed breed dogs.
  • Certified or registered with an AKC-recognized Therapy Dog organization.
  • Able to document the required number of visits for each title. A single visit counts as one therapy session at a facility per day, regardless of the number of people interacted with during the visit.
  • It is important to maintain accurate records of each therapy visit, as this documentation will be required when applying for the titles.

Significance of These Titles

Earning an AKC Therapy Dog title is not just about the recognition. It symbolizes the dog and handler’s dedication to bringing joy and comfort to others. It also represents the handler’s commitment to responsible dog ownership and the well-being of their dog. These titles can encourage others to participate in therapy work and highlight the important role that dogs play in improving human lives.

Two therapy dogs lying on a pillow.
Owned by: Tonya Christiansen

Qualifications & Training for the AKC Therapy Dog Program

On the journey towards becoming a recognized Therapy Dog in the AKC Therapy Dog Program, dogs and their handlers must navigate through a series of qualifications and training that ensure they are well-prepared for the role. This process begins with meeting basic age and health criteria, where dogs must be at least one year old and in good health, considering they will be interacting with diverse groups of people, including those with compromised immune systems.

The temperament of a Therapy Dog is crucial; they should exude calmness and friendliness, comfortably mingling with various people in different settings. Aggression or excessive shyness are traits that disqualify dogs from being suitable for therapy work. Alongside temperament, ensuring that dogs are up-to-date on vaccinations and regular health checks is essential to safeguard the health of both the dog and the people they visit.

The training process for a Therapy Dog begins with mastering basic obedience skills. Commands like sit, stay, come, down, and heel are foundational, ensuring the dog is well-behaved and manageable during therapy sessions. A significant milestone in this training journey is achieving the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification. This program tests a dog’s social skills and manners, aspects that are critical for a Therapy Dog.

However, training for Therapy Dogs goes beyond basic obedience. They undergo specialized training tailored to the unique challenges of therapy work, including exposure to different environments, handling by strangers, and navigating unexpected situations. This specialized training prepares them to be adaptable and comfortable in various therapeutic settings.

Certification is another key component of the process. Dogs must be certified or registered with a Therapy Dog organization recognized by the AKC. These organizations are re