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When you’ve had a stressful day, coming home to your treasured dog is an instant mood-lifter. Just ask any dog-lover — dogs don’t care how you look, how rich you are or if you are popular, they simply love you unconditionally. Research proves the idea that dogs calm us, lower our blood pressure, improve our recovery from heart disease, provide us a focus other than ourselves, join us in creating a routine, exercise with us, and even reduce rates of asthma. They also show distinct characteristics of empathy.

That’s why it comes as no surprise that “man’s best friend” often provides emotional support to those going through troubling times, and they can help humans when in danger as part of a search-and-rescue team. If you think your dog would be a fit to help your community, you’ve probably wondered how to go about certifying them as a therapy or a search and rescue service dog. Check out the below information for guidance!

Therapy Dog Certification  

Therapy dogs go to hospitals, nursing and retirement homes, and schools with their guardians to help people cope with tragedies. For instance, if someone is suffering from anxiety after a distressing situation, or coming to terms with a terminal illness, a dog can provide comfort during a person’s time of need.

There are three different types of therapy dogs: therapeutic visits (visiting places like hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc. to provide comfort), animal-assisted therapy (dogs assisting in occupational and physical therapists to help patients recover), and facility therapy (where the dogs live at the facilities such as rehabilitation centers). So, where should you start if you think your pup would be great as a therapy dog?


Does Your Dog Have the Right Temperament?

A therapy dog should be friendly, calm, and love being around all types of people. If your dog becomes nervous in a new environment or doesn’t like people coming up to pet him/her, they probably are not ideal to be a therapy dog.

Is Your Dog in Good Health?

You’ll want to make sure your dog is in good overall health and is up to date on all of their vaccinations before they go to a nursing home, school or another facility. Where you decide to volunteer with your dog will more than likely want to see a health certificate from your veterinarian.

Get Certified

Testing requirements for therapy dog certifications vary depending on the certification organization. There are many groups that will help provide training, certification, and sometimes liability insurance for both the therapy dog and the guardian. The American Kennel Club has a list of approved organizations in various states in the U.S. Contact the organization in your area to see what requirements are needed for testing (most require that the dog pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test.) You can also head over to Therapy Dogs International for more information.

Get Out There and Volunteer

Now that your dog is certified, it’s time to get out there and volunteer your time. The certification organization will typically have a list of volunteer opportunities for you to choose from. Contacting your local animal rescue group or shelter is also a great way to see which facilities in your town are in need of a therapy dog.

Search and Rescue Dog Certification 

If you’re looking for other ways to get your dog involved in helping people, you could also consider having them certified as a search and rescue dog. This means that they would provide emergency aid to people (or sometimes even other animals) who are in danger, such as during natural disasters.


Dogs and handlers will both need to pass the national certification, including first aid, CPR, map reading, and compass use. For more information, check out FEMA’s canine and handler certification requirements and learn how to get started. The Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States is also a great resource.

Other Ways You Can Help

Even if your dog is not a good fit as a therapy dog or a search and rescue dog, you can still help your local programs succeed by donating to a therapy dog organization or volunteering your time to help foster a dog in training. For more ways you can get involved with therapy animals, check out the resources below:

Lead Image Source: Ohio University Libraries/Flickr