What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.

From working with a child who is learning to read to visiting a senior in assisted living, therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people.

Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability. An example of a service dog is a dog who guides an owner who is blind, or a dog who assists someone who has a physical disability. Service dogs stay with their person and have special access privileges in public places such as on planes, restaurants, etc. Therapy dogs, the dogs who will be earning the AKC Therapy Dog™ title, do not have the same special access as service dogs.

It is always unethical and often illegal to attempt to pass off a therapy dog as a service dog for purposes such as flying on a plane or being admitted to a restaurant.

Since the 1980’s, there have been significant advances in the field of animal assisted therapy and the use of therapy dogs. Organized therapy dog groups provide educational material to volunteers, they screen both volunteers and dogs, and they provide liability insurance for when the dog and handler are volunteering in a therapy setting.

Therapy dog certification organizations are the experts in this field. It is their dedication that has organized and advanced the work of therapy dogs and their efforts should be acknowledged and appreciated. The following certification organizations are recognized by the AKC. A dog must be certified by one of these organizations to be eligible to receive the AKC Therapy Dog title.

AKC Therapy Dog

The purpose of this program is to recognize AKC dogs and their owners who have given their time and helped people by volunteering as a therapy dog and owner team.

  • The AKC Therapy Dog™ program awards official AKC titles to dogs who have worked to improve the lives of the people they have visited.
  • AKC Therapy Dog titles can be earned by dogs who have been certified by AKC recognized therapy dog organizations and have performed the required number of visits.
  • AKC does not certify therapy dogs; the certification and training is done by qualified therapy dog organizations. The certification organizations are the experts in this area and their efforts should be acknowledged and appreciated.

Why Did AKC Start A Therapy Dog Title?

AKC has received frequent, ongoing requests from dog owners who participate in therapy work to “acknowledge the great work our dogs are doing.” Many of our constituents are understandably proud of their dogs. Earning an AKC Therapy Dog title builds on the skills taught in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy® and Canine Good Citizen® programs which creates a sound and friendly temperament needed by a successful therapy dog.

Therapy Dog Titles

  • AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN)
    Must have completed 10 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog (THD)
    Must have completed 50 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA)
    Must have completed 100 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX)
    Must have completed 200 visits.
  • AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD)
    Must have completed 400 visits.

AKC Recognized Therapy Dog Organizations

AKC would like to thank the following national therapy dog registration/certification organizations for their assistance during the launching of the AKC Therapy Dog title:

Therapy Groups (listed alphabetically)

How to earn the AKC Therapy Dog title

To earn an AKC Therapy Dog™ title, you and your dog must meet the following criteria:

  1. Certified/registered by an AKC recognized therapy dog organization.
  2. Perform the required number of visits for the title for which you are applying. For your convenience in helping you track your visits, you can use the Therapy Dog Record of Visits Sheet.
    • AKC Therapy Dog Novice (THDN). Must have completed 10 visits.
    • AKC Therapy Dog (THD). Must have completed 50 visits.
    • AKC Therapy Dog Advanced (THDA). Must have completed 100 visits.
    • AKC Therapy Dog Excellent (THDX). Must have completed 200 visits.
    • AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished (THDD). Must have completed 400 visits.
  3. The dog must be registered or listed with AKC.

All dogs are eligible to earn AKC Therapy Dog titles, including purebreds and mixed breeds. To earn an AKC Therapy Dog title, dogs must be registered or listed with AKC and have a number. This includes any one of these three options:

  1. AKC Registration Number (purebreds with registered parents)
    This is often known as the “AKC papers” provided to a dog owner by a breeder. If you have received a registration paper from your breeder or previous owner you can register online.
  2. PAL Number (purebreds not registerable)
    PAL is Purebred Alternative Listing. PAL (formerly called ILP) is a program that allows unregistered dogs of registerable breeds to compete in AKC Performance and Companion Events. PAL dogs include the many wonderful purebred dogs who may have come from shelters or rescue without AKC registration.
  3. Canine Partners Number (for mixed breeds or non registerable)
    Used by mixed breed dogs (and dogs otherwise not registered with AKC such as some purebreds from other countries). A special Canine Partners Therapy Dog Enrollment Form is available for mixed breed Therapy Dogs needing to obtain a dog number in order to receive their Therapy Dog Title. This form must be submitted together with the Therapy Dog Title Application.

Keeping It Pet-Friendly

Unless you’re legally disabled and have a properly licensed medical professional determine that you need a service dog or emotional support animal as part of your prescribed treatment plan, please completely ignore the internet rumors, viral videos and social media posts about:

  • How to bring your pet with your everywhere,
  • How you can escape paying pet deposits,
  • How to fly with your pet for free, or
  • How to get around breed/size restrictions in housing.

If you follow the money trail, these always lead to someone asking for you to pay for something that #1 provides no additional civil rights and #2 will never join you in court to defend your actions in front of the judge.  It’s also always cheaper to pay the pet deposits/fees than your legitimate medical bills for a factious disorder.

AVMA: Pets in Vehicles

Before you put your pet in the vehicle, ask yourself if you really need to take your pet with you – and if the answer is no, leave your pet safely at home. If you must take your pet with you, make sure (s)he is properly restrained so the trip is as safe as possible for both of you.

From the American Veterinary Medical Association:  Every year, hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion because they are left in parked vehicles. We’ve heard the excuses: “Oh, it will just be a few minutes while I go into the store,”or “But I cracked the windows…” These excuses don’t amount to much if your pet becomes seriously ill or dies from being left in a vehicle.

The temperature inside your vehicle can rise almost 20º F in just 10 minutes. In 20 minutes, it can rise almost 30º F…and the longer you wait, the higher it goes. At 60 minutes, the temperature in your vehicle can be more than 40 degrees higher than the outside temperature. Even on a 70-degree day, that’s 110 degrees inside your vehicle!

Your vehicle can quickly reach a temperature that puts your pet at risk of serious illness and even death, even on a day that doesn’t seem hot to you. And cracking the windows makes no difference.

Want numbers? An independent study showed that the interior temperature of vehicles parked in outside temperatures ranging from 72 to 96º F rose steadily as time increased. Another study​, performed by the Louisiana Office of Public Health, found that the temperatures in a dark sedan as well as a light gray minivan parked on a hot, but partly cloudy day, exceeded 125oF within 20 minutes.

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time
Elapsed time Outside Air Temperature (F)
70 75 80 85 90 95
0 minutes 70 75 80 85 90 95
10 minutes 89 94 99 104 109 114
20 minutes 99 104 109 114 119 124
30 minutes 104 109 114 119 124 129
40 minutes 108 113 118 123 128 133
50 minutes 111 116 121 126 131 136
60 minutes 113 118 123 128 133 138
> 1 hour 115 120 125 130 135 140
Courtesy Jan Null, CCM; Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University

This study also found that cracking the windows had very little effect on the temperature rise inside the vehicle.

This is definitely a situation where “love ’em and leave ’em” is a good thing. Please leave your pets at home at home when you can…they’ll be safe and happily waiting for you to come home.

…but wait, there’s more!

The risks associated with pets in vehicles don’t end with heatstroke. Just as you should always wear your seatbelt to protect you in case of a collision, your pet should always be properly restrained while in the vehicle. That means a secure harness or a carrier.

A loose, small pet could crawl down in the footwell, interfering with use of the brake or accelerator pedal. A small pet sitting in your lap could be injured or killed by the airbag or could be crushed between your body and the airbag in a collision, and a large pet leaning across your lap can interfere with your view of the road and can be injured by the air bag in a collision. Unrestrained pets could be thrown out or through windows or windshields in a collision. And not only could your pet be injured in the collision, but it might also increase your risk of collision by distracting you and taking your attention away from where it should be – on the road.

To learn more about the importance of restraining your pets, visit Paws to Click.

Most of us smile when we see a dog’s face happily hanging out a window, digging the ride and the smells wafting on the breeze, but this is a very risky venture for the dog for three reasons. One, it means your dog isn’t properly restrained – and we’ve already told you why that’s so important. Two, your dog is at high risk of eye, ear, face and mouth injury from airborne objects when it’s got its face hanging out the window. Three, letting your dog hang any part of its body out of the window increases the risk that (s)he could be thrown out of the vehicle during a collision, lose its balance and fall out of the open window during an abrupt turn or maneuver, or jump out of the vehicle to threaten another dog or a person.

And let’s not forget the severe dangers of driving with your dog in the bed of a pickup truck. Dogs can fall or jump from the truck bed and be injured or killed on impact, or be struck by other traffic. And just as letting your dog hang its head out of the window puts it at risk of injury from debris, a dog in a truck bed is even more exposed to airborne hazards. Using a appropriate-length tether may reduce the risk that your dog will exit the truck bed, but the tether could tangle, injure, or even choke your dog. If you must transport your dog in the bed of a pickup truck, use a secured and appropriately sized and ventilated dog kennel.