How to Adopt a Therapy Dog

Feb 19,2022

Therapy dogs can be an exciting aid in helping people cope with stress, trauma, depression, and lack of motivation. This type of dog has an important role in nursing homes, care facilities, hospitals, retirement homes, schools, and even disaster areas in some cases. Although therapy dogs do not receive the same rigorous training as service dogs they need to possess a few key abilities and characteristics:


First, the proper therapy dog has to have a mild and calm temperament. Therapy dogs can be playful, but they need to be able to be gentle and friendly. Another important trait they need to have is to be comfortable among crowds and tight groups of people. Therapy dogs need to show that they respond to commands quickly and respect the leash.


Therapy dogs can help relieve stress and help build social skills in settings where there are children with special needs as well as adults who have been through a traumatic experience. Therapy dog training is more accessible than ever with online courses and you might be reading this article while thinking about the best way to adopt a therapy dog. There are four ways to adopt a therapy dog that we can identify.


Adopt a Therapy Dog In-Training

Breeders often work with trainers and families that are looking for a service dog or a therapy dog to join their life. There are cases where families need to move to another home and there is no clear plan on how to continue the therapy dog training. Alternatively, the dog owners may have decided they need a guard dog or a farm dog. The breeds suitable for therapy work are not always suitable for living in a farm setting or a small apartment. If you can contact a breeder in your area, you could ask them if someone is looking for a new home for their therapy dog in training. Another good opportunity to start the adopting process is to talk to schools that specialize in training dogs for service and therapy work. They could point you in the right direction.


Adopt a Former Service Dog Candidate

As mentioned above, you could reach out to a local dog training school or talk to a private trainer about adopting a therapy dog. This will let you have easier access to dog training information and it is an excellent opportunity to potentially adopt a former service dog candidate. The service dog training can be rather strict and not all animals graduate as the school will prioritize the quality of service. Service dog candidates that do not make the cut are usually sent for adoption into families and a few of them may have a “carrier change” if they demonstrate particular qualities suitable to herding, protection work, or detecting substances. As you may guess, adopting a former service dog candidate means the dog will come with a few commands learned and established character quality. This option is advantageous for people who may want to invest in the dog to become their family therapy dog or help people in care facilities but they don’t necessarily want to start from scratch.


Find a Friendly Dog and Train It Yourself

If you are in need of a therapy dog and you are thinking about adopting a dog from a rescue shelter – you can absolutely do that. Choosing this route has a few benefits. The costs of the training will be much lower if you enroll in an online course as opposed to going to a dog school. In addition, you have greater choice over the breed and you can build a stronger bond with your dog. Schools often take dogs from two or three breeds and that may not be what you need. Going to a shelter and picking a dog from there is a good idea as they are usually socialized and they have all their vaccination done. Also, many people on social media share inspiring accounts of how loyal and loving their rescued paw partners are.


If you are considering a mature dog to adopt, talk to their caretaker and ask a few questions about their character, socialization, health profile, and life expectancy. People that want to adopt a puppy and groom it into a loving therapy dog need to be aware of a few key aspects:


  • Vocalizing — it is fine if the puppy barks from time to time, but therapy dogs are expected to be calm and quiet most of the time they spend working. There is nothing wrong if your dog likes to bark during playtime but it needs to be friendly and not overly loud.
  • Biting — puppies love to explore their surroundings through touch, feel and smell. Some love to do that to your hands and feet too much and that is not a good sign if you are looking for a gentle therapy dog. If you might want to try and dissuade the dog from biting and nipping, go for it.
  • Character — friendly, affectionate, and calm puppies are excellent candidates for therapy dogs. Needy and jumpy puppies are not very good candidates and may need extra attention. If you are willing to invest more time to build their independence and character you will need to be highly motivated.


Adopt a Fully Trained Therapy Dog

The fourth way to adopt a therapy dog is, of course, to buy a fully trained animal from an accredited school or a private trainer. This can cost a pretty penny (1,000 to 5,000 USD) depending on the breed and the time put into the training. If you might intend to do serious therapy work with an animal and you have a clear plan on how that will fit into your personal and professional life – this might be the perfect opportunity for you. You might need to spend some time with the school/trainer to have a good grasp of your dogs’ abilities and character before you have full custody of the dog.



If you plan on acquiring or training a therapy dog you should know that they are not service dogs and they do not have access privileges guaranteed by law. You will be expected to negotiate entry into hospitals, schools, universities, and care facilities on your own or through a therapy dog agency. However, therapy dogs are not considered pets or Emotional Support Animals by the law. They can play a special role in animal-assisted healing practices and therapeutic visitations. Therapy dogs are not required to be certified, but a certificate can help open doors for you in your line of work. If you may have more questions, please check the other articles we have on therapy dogs.