Finding a Therapy Dog

So you’ve done some research and think volunteering with a therapy dog sounds like something you’d enjoy. Great! Now, let’s find you a dog that meets the requirements.


Searching for your therapy dog at a rescue organization is a great place to start. Rescued therapy dogs have a great rags-to-riches backstory and you’re saving a life. My recommendation is to start at which includes thousands of rescue organization. You can search by perimeters such as location, breed, size, age and much more.


But not just any breeder! You want a reparable breeder who has the dogs’ best interest in mind. Start searching by state at AKC Breeder Referral. Ask questions. “How many litters do you have in a year?” If the answer is more than two, you’re likely at a puppymill or backyard breeder. “Have you done any genetic testing on the parents?” This answer should always be yes. Visit the VCA Hospitals for some great tips on avoiding buying an unhealthy dog.

What to look for when searching for your therapy dog
  • Location Search for dogs that are within driving distance from where you are. You will want to meet your dog before adopting.
  • Age If you aren’t looking for a puppy, search for a dog that is at least two years old. That is the minimum age requirement for most therapy dog organizations. Geriatric dogs can make great therapy dogs too, but be mindful of any impairments that could interfere with volunteering such as eyesight and hearing. I retired my first therapy dog at 13 because she was blind and deaf and no longer enjoyed visiting.
  • Size Working therapy dogs come in all shapes and sizes. Choose your favorite and if their temperament is sound, you’ll be able to find something to do together.
  • Temperament This is the most important part of choosing a therapy dog. The American Kennel Club defines temperament as … an animal’s personality, makeup, disposition, or nature. A longer definition of temperament is “individual differences in behavior that are biologically based.” Temperament is not the physical characteristics of a dog, and it is not learned behaviors such as sit, down and stay.

There are six main types of temperament

A dog with this type of personality is friendly and sociable. He will be well adjusted if he receives regular training and lots of exercise. Outgoing dogs have a flexible temperament that adapts well to different types of environments provided he is handled correctly. Outgoing dogs can be excellent therapy dogs and are the gold standard. Examples: friendly with strangers, enjoys the company of people.

For advanced, diligent owners. This pup is dominant and self-assured. However, he readily accepts human leadership that is firm and consistent. This dog responds best to an owner that is determined and decisive and, in the right hands, the confident dog has the potential to be a fine therapy dog provided his owners know what they are doing. Example: Takes easy direction from owner in all situations, including social.

The adaptable dog is easy to handle and cooperative. His submissive nature will have him continually looking to his master for leadership. This pup is easy to train, reliable with children, and though he lacks self confidence makes a high quality family pet. He is usually less extroverted than an outgoing pup but his demeanor is gentle and affectionate. Adaptable dogs make good therapy dogs as long as they have a solid foundation with their owner. Example: Loves to do whatever the owner wants him to do.

The dog with this type of personality is extremely dominant and can easily be provoked into biting. The dominant nature of this dog makes him resist human leadership Examples of aggression include resource guarding, a hard stare, growling, barking, snarling, lunging, snapping, and/or biting. An aggressive dog is NOT recommended for therapy work.

The insecure dog is extremely submissive and lacking in self confidence. He bonds very closely with his owner and requires regular companionship and encouragement to bring him out of himself. If handled incorrectly the insecure dog will grow up very shy and fearful. For this reason he will do best in a predictable structured lifestyle with owners who are patient and not overly demanding. An insecure dog is NOT recommended for therapy work.

A dog with an independent personality is uninterested in people. He will mature into a dog who is not demonstrably affectionate and who has a low need for human companionship. To perform as intended these dogs require a singularity of purpose that is not compromised by strong attachments to their owner. An independent dog is NOT recommended for therapy work.

Slow Down but Don’t Give Up

Be prepared to be patient until the right dog comes along. Don’t rush the process. Really think about what you want. I spent 5 months looking for Rosie and I’m so glad I waited. What if you fall in love with a dog that might not be therapy dog material? Will you give up the therapy dog dream? There are lots of things to consider.