Our thanks and gratitude to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) for the information contained in this article.

To clear up any misconceptions, we’ll begin with information from ATD on the difference between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs.

What is the difference between a Therapy Dog and a Service Dog?i

As one of the largest therapy dog organizations in the U.S., ATD receives questions about whether a therapy dog is the same as a service dog. “Each of these dogs has a very different job from the others and the terms are not interchangeable.” They explain the differences between therapy dogs and service dogs and the roles these dogs play in the lives of those who need them.

What is a Service Dog?

Service Dogs are trained to perform tasks and to do work that eases their handlers’ disabilities. Working as part of a team with their disabled partners, service dogs help them attain safety and independence. It is very important to note that these dogs are not for petting as it could prevent them from performing their job correctly. Most service dogs have a “no petting” policy established by their owners.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs in public places such as restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels. Additional laws such as the Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act, the Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Act, and the Federal Rehabilitation Act protects the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in a wide variety of circumstances under which the ADA may not be applicable.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs also receive training but have a completely different type of job from service dogs. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers. These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit hospitals, schools, hospices, nursing homes and more. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a variety of people while they are on-duty including petting the therapy dog.

A young boy, lying in a hospital bed, smiles while petting a therapy dog.

Therapy dogs may also visit schools, daycares, group homes and rehabilitation centers. Their roles vary from dogs who give learning disabled children the confidence to read out loud, to actively participating in physical rehabilitation therapy. In some cases, a therapy dog will work in an establishment exclusively, such as a psychotherapy practice.

Therapy dogs may be trained by just about anyone but must meet set standards to be certified and registered and actively participate in the program. They are usually handled by their owners, but in some cases of Animal Assisted Therapy, the therapy dog may be handled by a trained professional.

Do Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs Have the Same Legal Status?

Despite thorough training, registration and the therapeutic benefits therapy dogs provide, they do not have the same jobs or legal designation as service dogs. While some institutions offer therapy dogs access on a case-by-case for the benefit of patients, guests, customers or clientele, the handlers or owners of therapy dogs do not have the same rights to be accompanied by these dogs in places where pets are not permitted.

Service and therapy dogs provide much more than “jobs” for the disabled. Each of these animals provides their owners with the companionship and love that only a dog can give. To learn more about registering a therapy dog, please visit their new members page here.

The most important “job” of a therapy dog is to share their special love and companionship with anyone in need. To learn more about the benefits of therapy dogs, or to find out how your dog can participate in a therapy program, please feel free to contact us.

How Do I Get My Dog to be a Therapy Dogii

A small therapy dog sits on a chair, beside an elderly woman.

Household pets that are trained by the family, require no specialized therapy dog training, certification, registration, or documentation. Dogs must be well mannered and under the control of their handlers at all times. Some dogs get formal training from training schools, others are well trained at home by their handlers.  At the Alliance of Therapy dogs, the process is as follows:

Step 1: A therapy dog must be a friendly dog. Any mix or breed can be trained to provide comfort and affection to people in hospitals, retirement homes, schools, mental health institutions, airports, and many other settings. Dogs must be at least one year old to become a therapy dog.

Step 2: A tester/observer in your area test you and your dog. This test includes a handling portion which tests your dog’s basic good manners, demeanor, and your handling skills.

Step 3: After the handling portion of the test, you and your dog are supervised by a tester/observer during three visits with residents of medical facilities. Upon a successful completion of these visits and submission of your application paperwork, you and your dog may become a Therapy Team!

Can a Therapy Dog Go Anywhere?

Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are allowed in places where all dogs are allowed and in places that specifically allow therapy dogs, like those hospitals, schools, libraries, etc. that have therapy dog programs.

There are no special rights for therapy dogs which would that allow them to accompany their owners into a business establishment.  Since hotels, motels and campgrounds are businesses, therapy dogs are considered pets and must follow policy.

A well-mannered, well-behaved dog that enjoys meeting people can become therapy a dog and make a difference in the lives of those that need them. To learn more about how your dog can become a therapy dog or the ways in which you can lend support, visit our new members page here.

Joining ADT and Therapy Dogs Testers in New Mexicoiii

There are 15 members of ADT authorized to test prospective therapy dogs in New Mexico. A list is available here, simply enter your zip code. Before your dog is tested, there are Five Steps to becoming a member. Comprehensive information and a FAQ section are found on their Be A Member page.

  1. Background Check
  2. ADT Testing
  3. Graduate
  4. Paperwork & Fee
  5. Start Visits