How to Make My Dog a Therapy Dog

Disclaimer: The information below is provided for informational purposes only. We are not lawyers and cannot provide legal advice. Claiming a pet is an emotional support animal or therapy animal could have legal consequences. Please consult an attorney.

Have you ever wondered if your pet could make a good therapy animal? Animals all over the world are getting jobs soothing their human counterparts, and the road to becoming a therapy animal – also called an emotional support animal (ESA) – is probably less complicated than you think.

Therapy animals are there to help humans with disabilities managing emotional distress in their lives, from children exhibiting severe anxiety to an elderly person managing chronic depression, and everyone in between.  Therapy animals are probably the best manifestation of animals that we know of.

There’s a difference between therapy animals and service animals. Therapy animals need not been trained or certified to assist a person with a disability, while service animals are specially designated animals that have been trained to assist individuals with disabilities.  While any animal can technically be an ESA, service animals can only be dogs and miniature horses.  Further, disabled individuals have a right to use a service animal in places of public accommodation – like restaurants and hotels – whereas you primarily have the right to an ESA in your housing.  Thus, while therapy animals have fewer privileges,  their role is still just as vital when it comes to helping out humans.

How To Make My Animal A Therapy Animal

Any animal can technically be a therapy animal so long as the animal ameliorates the symptoms of your disability.  However, for your therapy animal to live with you, there are certain rules they need to follow.

Your ESA Needs to Ameliorate the Symptoms of Your Disability

To be a therapy animal, an ESA needs to ameliorate the effects or symptoms of your disability or disabilities.  For example, some people with chronic depression find that by being responsible for an ESA, they are able to pull themselves out of depressive states.  For others suffering from severe anxiety, an ESA may help them pull themselves out of their head by pawing at or cuddling up to their owner when they see the anxiety starting to manifest.  While therapy animals need not be trained, you do need to be able to demonstrate and explain how your ESA ameliorates the effects of your disability or disabilities.

Your ESA Needs To Be Well Socialized

It’s absolutely critical that your ESA shows no human or animal aggression, and that it is okay moving outside of his or her comfort zone.  If you have a violent therapy animal, not only could the animal be removed from your housing, you could be evicted depending on the terms of your lease.  Plus, aggressive animals are typically not seen as being emotionally supportive such that it’s unlikely an aggressive animal can be said to ameliorate the symptoms of your disability, especially a mental health disability.

Can Any Breed of Dog Be A Therapy Dog?

Any breed of dog can become a therapy animal, though it makes more sense for a calmer breed of dog to become a therapy animal.  Of course, every breed has their exceptions.  So long as your dog is able to follow basic commands and listen well, they are a good candidate for becoming a therapy dog. Rescue dogs also make excellent therapy dogs because they are able to connect with the pain of the humans that they are interacting with.  Misunderstood breeds, like pit bull terriers, also make good therapy dogs and can act as breed ambassadors.

How Do I Know If My Animal Would Be A Good Therapy Animal?

The best ESAs are animals that exhibit a calm demeanor and are not easily rattled. Therapy animals should be able to handle all sorts of different environments and behaviors. Sometimes people don’t know how to interact with animals and might approach them in a strange way. Your animal should be able to identify that these people are not a threat and respond accordingly. The best therapy animals are calm in new surroundings and are incredibly connected to and trusting of their owners.

How Do Therapy Animals Help Victims Of Trauma?

Therapy animals are wonderful when it comes to helping victims of trauma because they provide a calming presence. Victims can pet or hold the ESA as they work through their trauma. The mere presence of an animal reduces stress levels, and therapy animals are well equipped to take on this role.

Are Therapy Animals Good With Children?

Therapy animals are excellent with children, and they are especially valuable when it comes to helping child victims of trauma. Children trust these animals and are more inclined to open up to people when a therapy animal is in the room. Therapy animals are also great resources for sick children, as they provide a quiet kind of comfort.


If you have questions about what makes a good therapy animal, we have answers!

Can A Therapy Dog Be Bad Around Other Dogs?

Therapy dogs should be socialized around other dogs and people. They should be calm and non-aggressive around other dogs.

Can Therapy Dogs Understand Humans?

Dogs can understand human emotions and therapy dogs are uniquely equipped to read people. That’s part of what makes them so special.

Therapy animals are some of the most useful animals on the planet. They are able to comfort and calm down people, and have been proven to be absolutely vital when it comes to human rehabilitation and care.