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How Do Therapy Dogs Get Certified?

From the book EVERY DOG HAS A GIFT: True Stories of Dogs Who Bring Hope & Healing Into Our Lives by Rachel McPherson, founder and executive director of the Good Dog Foundation.

The Good Dog Foundation offers a thorough evaluation, training program, and follow-up program for its Good Dog Therapy teams. The Foundation initially evaluates the handler and the dog as a team to determine which level class they are placed in. Good Dog offers fundamental obedience, basic obedience, and therapy dog classes. If the handler-dog teams pass the class and become certified, they are completely supported by The Good Dog Foundation staff.

Here are more details on how The Good Dog Foundation program works.

How Do Therapy Dogs Get Certified?


Training and Evaluation Courses

We have developed a highly effective multiple-session training course for dogs that uses positive reinforcement and patient, reward-based methods. One of the many advantages to this approach is that gentle, loving dogs that may have a temporary problem with manners because they are nervous or excited at first are not summarily excluded from participating in our therapy dog services work.

Here is a summary of what is included in each of the Good Dog Foundation training programs. Although the Fundamental and Basic dog training courses are similar, the Fundamental course is geared especially for dogs that have no prior training.

Fundamental Dog Training: Four one-hour sessions

  • Basic obedience (sit, down, stay, walk on a loose lead)
  • Relaxation and control


Basic Dog Training: Four one-hour sessions

  • Basic obedience (sit, down, stand, stay, walk on a loose lead)
  • Begin gentling exercises and desensitization to handling and novel stimuli
  • Begin familiarization with hospital equipment
  • Socialization exercises with other dogs and people


Therapy Dog Training: Five one-hour sessions

  • Meeting and greeting exercises
  • Familiarization with hospital equipment
  • Role-playing for hospital environment
  • Instruction and coaching on safe dog-handling in health care facilities

Follow-Up Support

Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the Foundation: Without them we would not be able to provide the services that we do. That’s why once handler-dog teams become certified, The Good Dog Foundation staff continually supports and encourages our volunteers to ensure they have the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences possible.

For example, the Foundation staff maintains a close relationship with each of the facilities that our handler-dog therapy teams serve, so our teams always feel welcome and secure wherever they go. We assess and work with each team to help handlers select the places they would like to visit. Our experienced handler-dog teams always “buddy up” and accompany new teams on their first walk-through of the facility they have chosen.

Volunteers are always welcome to ask questions and to get assistance from the Foundation’s professional peer support groups. The Good Dog Foundation also holds events each year that recognize volunteers for their service in all the regions served by the Foundation.

Copyright © 2010 by Rachel McPherson and Lynn Sonberg. Reprinted by arrangement with Tarcher Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, Inc.

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