Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Service Dog Blog Hop - Therapy Dog FAQs

Today is the first ever Sunday Service Dog Blog Hop.  The Sunday Service Dog Blog Hop was created by Oz the TerrierCarma Poodale, and me, with the help of our assistants, to help educate people about service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals, and the very important and very different roles they play.  

Infographic by Sugar's mom

I am a therapy dog, so Mom and I get a lot of questions about therapy dogs.  Here are some of the questions we have received:

What's the difference between a therapy dog and a service dog? 

At BarkWorld I met Mr. Bean,
a service dog in training

A service dog is a dog specifically trained to do work or perform specific tasks for a person who is disabled.  (Service dogs are also called assistance dogs, and they include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs, mobility dogs, medical alert dogs, medical assistance dogs, and psychiatric service dogs.)  You should not pet a service dog.

A therapy dog is a dog who visits hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, etc. to spend time with people and make them feel better.  Therapy dogs must be trained and well-mannered, and in some places are required to pass the Canine Good Citizen test and be certified by an organization such as Therapy Dogs Incorporated.  People are encouraged to pet therapy dogs -- that's their job!

For a more detailed explanation, see my mom's post Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, & Emotional Support Animals - Important Differences.

Sleeping on the job
(Being a therapy dog is hard work)

Can you take him (meaning me, Garth) on an airplane? 

No.  Therapy dogs do not have the same access privileges as service dogs, so they are not allowed to accompany their owners on planes, into restaurants, or into other places where dogs are not allowed but where service dogs are allowed by law.

Do you ever want to use the therapy dog vest to get your dog into places where dogs aren't allowed? 

NO.  NO.  NO.  Not only is this a violation of the Therapy Dogs Incorporated ethics and against the law in some places, it's just WRONG to misrepresent a pet as a service dog.  Therapy dogs are not the same as service dogs and don't have the same access rights.  

What's the harm in pretending a pet is a service dog?  

When people misrepresent pets as service dogs, it makes life more difficult for the people who have a legitimate need for service dogs.  Restaurant, hotel, and store owners don't take service dogs seriously when pet dogs are routinely misrepresented as service dogs and behave badly.  Unfortunately this is happening more and more frequently because it's easy to obtain fake service dog credentials over the internet.  People with disabilities who have a legitimate need for service dogs are facing increased discrimination and denied access because of fake service dogs.  We think this is appalling.  If you're considering misrepresenting your dog as a service dog, first consider this: do you really want to make life more difficult for those who need service dogs?

What type of therapy do you do?

For some reason mom always thinks this question is funny.  She wants to answer something like "aromatherapy" or "massage therapy" or "Jungian psychotherapy", but I have to remind her that most people don't really understand what therapy dogs do.  When she explains that we primarily just visit with people and let them pet us, many people give her a blank look.  But just a dog's presence has a very calming influence for many humans, and petting a dog lowers a human's blood pressure.  One woman told us that our visit with her father at a rehab center was the best thing that had happened in months.  He had been in and out of hospitals and rehab centers, and she said just the act of petting a dog gave him a sense of normalcy that felt REALLY good.

Sleep therapy

Where do you do your therapy work?

Mom and I have visited hospitals, assisted living facilities, long term care facilities, rehab centers, and libraries -- we even visit a local law school during exams to help the students with their stress.  We also attend events such as the Special Olympics.  Some of our therapy dog friends go to schools and let children read to them.

How often do you do your therapy dog work?

Because mom works full-time and has a part-time job as a hike leader and another part-time job as my blogging assistant, our schedule is pretty limited.  We try to do a therapy visit at least once a month.  We're required to do one visit a quarter to remain certified and nine visits a year to retain our Caring Canines membership.

Do you work with other doggies or alone?

There are usually a bunch of therapy dog teams at each visit.  At some facilities we split up and go room to room visiting with patients, but at other places we all visit with everyone in a common area.  Some of our friends do visits where they are the only dog.  It depends upon the facility and the needs of the patients.

Do you work with little humans or regular-sized humans?

Both  - it depends upon the visit.  We went to the Children's Hospital for our last visit, and we visited with little humans, but most of our visits have been with regular-sized humans.

How much training is required to be a therapy dog?

That depends on a huge number of factors -- whether your dog already knows basic manners, their maturity level, how much time you can spend with them, and whether they have issues they need to overcome.  To become a therapy dog, a dog must learn basic manners and be able to remain calm in a variety of different situations.  

Therapy dogs must remain calm in a variety of different situations (such as when sitting next to a giant misshapen Holstein
wearing a night shirt)

Where can I buy a therapy dog?

You don't buy a therapy dog.  If someone tries to sell you one, be suspicious.  If you have a dog with the right temperament, you can train him or her and then take the Canine Good Citizen and therapy dog certification tests to become a therapy dog team.  Many of my therapy dog friends were adopted from shelters and rescues and trained to be therapy dogs.

You don't have to be a yellow lab to be a therapy dog

How do you become a therapy dog?

See my page How to Become a Therapy Dog.  

Why did you become a therapy dog?

Mom says I'm a very special dog, and I'm very good at making people smile, so she wanted to share me with others who could perhaps use a smile.

Sharing my smile at the 2013 RSPCA Dog Jog

What's the best thing about being a therapy dog?

I love people and I love attention.  I love petting and bellyrubbing, and I love meeting new people who can pet me and give me bellyrubs.  

The work of a therapy dog never ends

Have a fabulous Service Dog Sunday!!!


  1. This is absolutely wonderful Garth. This article brought tears to my eyes because this is exactly what I advocate for. Thank you so much for writing this. You're so smart! ;-)

  2. Thanks for this interesting post. It was a pleasure to read all about you and your work. Your mom is right, you are really a special dog! have a wonderful sunday, Garth!

  3. More Therapy dogs are needed in our area. Especially the one who can visit hospitals and nursing homes. The nurses always ask us to try to find therapy dogs to visit their patients because there is something about a dog to pet an talk to can help with the healing process.
    Thanks for explaining more about a therapy dog. I learned some new things about therapy dogs.
    Sunday wags!

  4. A great post, Garth. We read about those fake credentials causing problems and it is such a terrible thing for anyone to do.

  5. Oh Garth, Ma says she knew you were special as soon as she met you and she thinks it is great that you do such fabulous work to make everyone feel better. You get *high paws* from me, pal!

  6. What a great post!

    In particular, thanks for explaining the reasons why people should not go around pretending a pet is a service dog. "What's the harm?" or "What's wrong with that?" is what folks usually say, and you did a great job of spelling out why it's harmful to misrepresent your dog.

    Dachshund Daddy would like me to become a therapy dog because he says I make everyone's life brighter and better. My guess, however, is that it's not going to happen for me in this lifetime.

    It is theoretically possible for me to learn basic manners (though highly unlikely). On the other hand, I don't think I could ever remain calm in a variety of different situations.

    But since you use a cow as an example, guess what? I have learned not to bark at Swiss cows! I still bark at calves, though, but only if they stare.

  7. Very interesting, Garth! You do some very important work. I thought about becoming a therapy dog, but get too excited when I meet someone (especially if I know them). We're working on it, but I think we'll stick to agility.

    Pee Ess: We found you through Sugar's blog.

  8. Excellent post Garth very informative, I've got a lot of respect for service dogs.


  9. Very interesting and thoughtful explanation of being a therapy dog. I especially love the photo with the Holstein :)
    Great job spelling out the consequences of trying to pass a non-service dog off as a service dog. My understanding is that people with service dogs are denied access a lot more often than would be expected.

  10. Very informative blog! I have a disability and my own little dog is like my own personal therapy dog! I love what you say about the calming influence of having a dog nearby, I completely and whole-heatedly agree. All well said.

    Kate and Co @

  11. Beautifully said. I have a disability and my own little pooch is like my own personal therapy dog. The difference she has made to my mood is huge! (She is only 2.2k so not exactly am assistant dog..!!) but some great points made. I love what you say about the calming influence of having a poochy pal nearby. Too true.

    Love the whole blog. :-)
    Kate and Co @

  12. You are Special Garth and perfect to be a Therapy Dog. It is interesting that no many knows the hrs need to meet in order to get a renewal from TDI. Is your renewal from there? As they require signature from the establishments you visit. As always, Golden Happy to help out. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  13. Typists mum signed her dog up to be a therapy dog and used to take him visiting round nursing homes.

  14. Oh, I loved this postie Garth!!! I loves the works you do, and I thinks it is VERY important! I wish I was calm enough to be a therapy doggie!! butts Ma says I'm a hyperbutt and I drool LOTS, so that wouldn't be too calmin' for the peeps! BOL
    Therapy On Garth!!
    Ruby ♥

  15. I have a girlfriend who is a service doggie. Her name is Mandy and I usually see her on walkies with her human on Sunday mornings. Her human has some sort of condition. I'm not sure what, but her service doggie vest has a medical alert sign and a little pouch with words on it in case something bad happens to her human while she is on duty. She's a great little dog and I do envy her ability to go right in to the bagel store and the pizza parlor, but I would never dream of pretending to be a service dog. I respect the job too much.

    Therapy doggies are great too. Momma says that if I keep working on my confidence that I might try out for therapy doggie someday. I hope so.