Well that all depends on who you ask. The terms Working Dog, Service Dog, Assistance Dog, and yes, Therapy Dog gets used in many contexts. Allow me to sort it all out for you.
Therapy dogs are not “service” or “assistance” dogs. Service/Assistance dogs directly assist people and have a legal right to accompany their owners in most public areas. In the United States, service dogs are legally protected at the federal level by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Therapy dogs do not provide direct assistance and as such are not mentioned in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Commercial or private businesses may invite, limit, or prohibit access by therapy dogs. Therapy dogs can be used in a variety of ways: visiting the elderly in nursing homes, brightening the spirits of the ill in hospitals, assisting young children with their reading skills, a comforting touch to a grieving family, and many other ways.
If therapy dogs are allowed, many institutions have special requirements for these dogs.
There are a select few organizations that provide testing and accreditation for these types of dogs. In the United States, some places such as retirement homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and funeral homes require that a dog pass the equivalent of the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test and then add further requirements based on what they feel is necessary for environments in which the dogs will be working. Some organizations have their own testing requirements. Typical tests might ensure that a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises; can walk on assorted unfamiliar surfaces comfortably; are not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or unusual styles of walking or moving; get along well with children and with the elderly. You can check out the requirements for the AKC Canine Good Citizen here.
The first step in starting “Therapy training” is contacting the organization you wish to help at and inquire about their requirements. After you have completed this first step please feel free to contact us and we would love to help you prepare your dog for a lifetime of service.
For more information on service dogs please take a look at Madison’s Story, a current service dog case that we are working on.