The Therapy Dog Chronicles : Sit. Stay. Serve ;Can My Rescue Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

Wondering if your rescued dog has a calling as a therapy or Reading Education Assistance Dog ?

The healing power of paws is spreading across the country as therapy dogs and their human partners bring comfort and cheer to those who may need it. For many human handlers, and their rescued pooches, the benefits of volunteering together in animal assisted activity is a life changing experience.

The Daily Junior
The Daily Junior

My rescued golden,Junior,and I are a therapy dog team and R.E.A.D. Dog team. We also work in rescue. We are often asked if rescued dogs can become therapy dogs. Of course, Junior always answers this one with his own story of how he turned his second chance into a second career. Here are four key things we are asked and what we have learned on our journey.

1) What does a therapy dog do?

Therapy dogs visit in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries and other community settings to provide the special comfort and benefits of the canine –human connection. Roles of therapy dogs range from providing a friendly visit to a lonely senior in a nursing home , to comforting a hospital patient, to helping youngsters learn to read.

A number of benefits may be provided by a therapy animal. A friendly canine may help distract a person from their problems as they think and talk about animals. Animals may also open a channel of non threatening communication; provide non-judgmental acceptance and unconditional, uncomplicated acceptance. Therapy dogs may also provide a much-needed laugh.

Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are those who are specially trained to support a person with disabilities. Therapy dogs do not have the same access privileges in public places as service dogs.

2) The Road to Being a Therapy Dog Team
Becoming a therapy dog requires some dog gone hard work. Not every dog can be a therapy dog. But many formerly homeless rescued dogs do make the journey from homeless to hero.

They prove the power of second chances.

To qualify to become a therapy dog team, both human and canine volunteers must complete training. So it is important to evaluate if both of you are a good fit for the role of a therapy dog team.

A handler-animal team registers as a team with a therapy dog organization when they have completed the training and testing requirements. The handler-animal team must pass a skills and aptitude test, and the animal must complete a health screening. Pet Partners, one national organization, requires teams pass an evaluation every two years. Other therapy dog organization requirements may differ, but all require some form of evaluation of both animal and handler.

Any breed dog is eligible to become a therapy dog. Temperament is a key qualifying factor. Therapy animals must be reliable, predictable and controllable in a variety of therapy situations. A dog that is outgoing, friendly and confident in new surroundings is a potential therapy candidate. Therapy dogs should show no shyness or aggression. The animal should demonstrate non threatening body posture. Animals that growl or bite or show aggression would not be appropriate for therapy visiting. Rescued dogs and senior dogs often possess potential.

The amount of time it takes to prepare a dog to enter therapy work varies with the background of the team.

My golden retriever, Junior, a rescue at one year old, was not mature enough to be evaluated until he was three years old. He was distracted by almost anything that seemed fun. Other rescue dogs may be ready sooner. Some dogs may not be suitable for therapy interactions until even later.

The dog and the handler both need to be ready.

Because animal therapy work is a team effort between handler and dog, the handler also should possess certain characteristics. Handlers must be able to dedicate the necessary time to volunteer and train their animal on an ongoing basis. Handlers need to be responsible for their animal and an advocate for him or her. Key handler requirements are an ability and willingness to respect client differences and agency requirements, show empathy and maintain confidentiality.
Both handler and animal should enjoy the company of others. Handlers should be able to be friendly, provide gentle interaction and guidance, and be confident and relaxed during visits.

3) What’s our Best Fit? Finding the Right Niche?
For a new therapy dog team, one of the first steps after successfully completing testing and qualification can be finding just the right therapy niche. Some dogs and handlers enjoy interacting with seniors in clinical or acute care settings while other enjoy the role of reading with children. Matching the dog and handler team characteristics to the facility and role that best matches their experience, talents, interest and energy level is a key comment of successful experience effort for both team and recipients. My partner and I fit best in reading or one to one counseling environments.

4) How to Get Started ?
Volunteers interested in becoming involved in therapy work have a number of excellent organizations where they can learn more about becoming a therapy team.

Many organizations’ websites provide information about testing and registration for therapy dogs. Requirements vary for each organization.

My therapy partner, Junior, is registered as a Pet Partner therapy dog and a Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D).
To learn about the requirements to be a Pet Partners team ,visit their website at To learn more about R.E.A.D. Dogs, see .

Junior and I will be posting more on The Daily Junior about our work as a R.E.A.D. Dog team and Junior’s road from rescue to Retriever Reader and the impact of therapy dogs.

Becoming a therapy dog team with my rescued golden is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The times we are together in our therapy work are magical times for him, for me, and I hope for those we serve.

Does it look like Fido and you are a fit for therapy work?
You both may just find you are barking up the right tree.

We would love to add more thoughts from our community. What are the other things a team needs to consider when considering doing therapy dog work with a rescue dog?

For more information about our journey in therapy dog or Reading Education Assistance Dog work contact us here at The DailyJuniorBlog or email us at

Jill and Junior

One thought on “The Therapy Dog Chronicles : Sit. Stay. Serve ;Can My Rescue Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

  1. Reading dogs work magic. Our library has them.
    We started working with therapy dog group here. Molly the Malamute rescue has some calming down to do. She’s a rescue that was abused and went through 4 homes before here, Molly’s come a long way, but not ready yet. We shall point to Junior as a model for her!

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