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What Are Therapy Dogs?

What Are Therapy Dogs?

A lot of people—including those wondering if they might benefit from some sort of therapeutic or supportive partnership with a dog—are confused by all the different types of helpful dogs and other animals out there. After all, there are assistance dogs, emotional support animals, service dogs, psychiatric service dogs, guide dogs, therapy dogs, and plenty of other types and names.

We strive to clear up confusion so people can hone in on the appropriate source of support for their needs and circumstances. Plus, it helps people understand their rights or other people’s rights in public.

As you may have gathered from the title, this time we’re discussing therapy dogs. If it turns out this isn’t the type of animal you’re interested in, see the links at the end of this article to figure out what you are looking for.

The Main Distinction with Therapy Dogs

One thing that should be cleared up first is that, unlike the various types of assistance dogs and emotional support animals, the person receiving support from a therapy dog doesn’t own or live with the animal. Rather, these dogs are owned by other people who have them obedience trained and registered so they can provide comfort, affection, and other support to individuals other than their handlers. Therapy dogs simply visit people who can benefit from their support (sometimes regularly, sometimes sporadically); registered therapy dogs are brought to visits by their handlers.

Support from Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs don’t perform specific tasks like service, guide, and hearing dogs. Instead, they offer people non-judgmental affection, attention, interaction, companionship, and other forms of comfort. They have positive, calming, reassuring effects that provide numerous psychological and physiological benefits, like improving mood, reducing depression and anxiety, stress relief, combating loneliness, boosting confidence, lowering blood pressure, improving immune function and healing, and much more. These dogs also have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities.

Once obedience trained and registered, therapy dogs visit hospitals, rehab centers, hospice facilities, psychiatric centers, other medical facilities, nursing homes, other senior care facilities, schools, learning assistance centers, youth centers, homeless shelters, private homes, and other locations. They are brought in to provide therapeutic support to the people there. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with a variety of people while they’re on-duty.

All sorts of people benefit from therapy dog visits. These commonly include—but aren’t limited to—those with chronic or terminal illnesses, psychiatric or mood disorders, learning disabilities, people convalescing, trauma victims, veterans, children and adults on the autism spectrum, senior citizens, and disenfranchised groups.

Therapy Dog Temperament

Not just any dog can be an effective therapy dog. In particular, there are some important temperament considerations.

Therapy dogs must love human interaction, attention, and physical contact—even when it’s not the most polite or gentle. They need to get along well with children, even when a little mishandled, as is prone to happening with kids. There should be no hesitation around strangers or difficulties working around other animals, and these dogs have to be reliably friendly, patient, good-natured, and well-behaved in all sorts of environments and situations. They have to be outgoing and happy without crossing over the line into disruptive, hyper, or aggressive.

No particular breeds are favored as therapy dogs, though some of the same common assistance dog breeds are also frequently seen used in this capacity as well. It’s mostly about the individual.

Do People with Therapy Dogs Have Special Rights?

Therapy dogs aren’t assistance dogs, and their handlers don’t have any rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act, the Air Carrier Access Act, or other relevant laws. Unlike people partnered with assistance dogs, owners and beneficiaries of therapy dogs are not guaranteed equal access and other legal protections.

Businesses, facilities, community organizations, government buildings, housing, public areas, and other entities that welcome therapy dogs do so of their own volition. They have the right to deny access if they choose to.

More Information

If therapy dogs aren’t what you thought they were, or if you’d like to learn more about other types of support dogs, take a look at these articles:

Also, below is a resource to help you find therapy dog organizations in the Unites States:


Therapy Dogs United: About Us

Disabled World: What Is a Therapy Dog?

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