Can an Older Dog Become A Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs are great for people who need psychological or physiological support. These dogs provide both. A therapy dog is friendly, easygoing and loves to be around people. Did you know that there is no age or breed barrier when it comes to being a therapy dog? Any dog can be a candidate to become a therapy dog as long as they pass the certification.

Older dogs make for great therapy dogs, even more so than a puppy or younger canine.  Why do you ask? Well, older dogs make better therapy dogs because they are less active.

Older dogs are less likely to jump and run around.  An older dog is also more obedient than say a puppy. Older dogs have had their fun, and just want to relax and enjoy life with their human companion.

There is a saying that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, but that is not necessarily the truth.  There are lots of older dogs out there that are quite capable of learning new things. They just need a little training. Remember these dogs are already obedient, and happy to please their handler.

Before we get in too deep, let’s take a look at the different types of assistance dogs.

What Is A Therapy Dog

A Therapy Dog is a dog that is trained to comfort, provide affection and support to people.  These dogs will visit those in retirement homes, hospitals, mental institutions, schools, nursing homes, and disaster shelters.

People who spend with therapy dogs have been known to have shown lower blood pressure, as well as heart rate.  These wonderful dogs also help increase endorphins and oxytocin and reduce anxiety. People who have been around therapy dogs are also happier and look forward to their daily or weekly visits.

People who suffer from mental illness have been known to be calmer and feel at ease when interacting with dogs. The patients are then more comfortable when talking to their doctor and other people like nurses, or family members after they have spent time with dogs.

The therapy dog, unlike the service dog, is not trained to perform specific tasks.   They also do not have the same public access rights as service dogs. This means that they cannot go into other places other than their designated location.

 So no airports, or restaurants for these dogs. 

Some History

Therapy dogs have to go through numerous tests to see if they are a good candidate for this special job.  The tests are focused on their ability to block distractions, how comfortable they are around lots of people, and people who suffer from different disabilities.  An example is anxiety disorder. They are also tested on several different landscapes, to see if they can walk through with no problem.

Good therapy dogs must be comfortable and at ease in every and any situation.  The therapy dogs must enjoy being around humans, fine with being petted, handled, lifted, cuddled and love the contact with humans.  They should not be scared or aggressive toward strangers.

Canines used for therapeutics has been used by many over the last few hundred years.  It is said that Sigmund Freud, Elaine Smith, and Florence Nightingale were among some of the famous people to have used these dogs.

Sigmund Freud thought it to be true that dogs were able to sense tension that his patients were feeling, and would comfort them. He also liked to use dogs to communicate with patients. His feeling was that his patients were more open to talking with him after they spent time with his dogs.  He found that his dogs made his patients more at ease, and happy during their sessions with him.

Elaine Smith who was a registered nurse started a program for dogs to visit hospitals and other institutions in 1976 after a chaplain had come in with a dog.  The dog visit seemed to lift the spirits of patients and make them feel more at ease.

Florence Nightingale introduced Animal Assisted Therapy.  She unearthed that people who were patients living in a psychiatric ward showed fewer signs of anxiety when they spent time with dogs, and other small animals.

What Is A Service Dog?

Here is a brief description of what a service dog is, and what they do.   A service dog is a dog that is highly trained to help and assist people who suffer from disabilities like mental illness, visual impairments, seizure disorders, diabetes, fainting etc.   They are not pets and strangers are not supposed to pet them especially while they are on duty.

What Is An Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support dog is a dog that provides daily emotional support to their handler.  These dogs are usually the pet of the handler. 

These dogs are not allowed in public spaces like a service dog, although sometimes people treat them like a service dog and expect that their dog is allowed in all public spaces just like a service dog.

Can My Dog Become A Therapy Dog?

Yes, your dog can become a therapy dog.  However, there is training and certification involved.  You cannot just walk into a retirement home and bring your dog for a visit. 

You should know that not all dogs are a fit for this job.  Even though you have an older dog, it still may not be the right fit. 

A therapy dog must be calm in nature, along with being friendly and affectionate to unfamiliar people.  These canines must be well mannered and obedient. They are also required to have regular check-ups with their veterinarian, and to be fresh and clean for every visit. 

A Few Recommendations

Before trying to get your dog certified for therapy dog work, you should make sure your dog has gone through these courses first if they haven’t already.

  •  Socialization classes 
  • Obedience training
  • Therapy Dog Classes 
  • Register with a recognized dog therapy organization

Certifying Your Older Dog for Dog Therapy

Okay, so you have determined your dog is a good fit to be a therapy dog.  So now what you have to do is certify your dog

Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1- Determine that your dog is a fit.  Your dog must be friendly. We have already established that.  Great! Any dog breed may be trained to provide companionship and affection to those in hospitals, schools, retirement homes, mental institutions, and several other required settings.

The dog must be at least 1 year of age. We got that covered since we have an older dog.

Step 2- You must find an observer/tester who is authorized to test your dog and you.  This test consists of handling your dog, and testing your dog’s manners, handling skills and behavior.

Step 3:  Next your dog and you are supervised by an observer/test with residents of certain medical facilities, or school, ect.  Once your dog has completed the required visits with success, you may submit your application.

Step 4:  Welcome to Dog Therapy!!  You have passed and now your furry friend is officially certified. Congratulations!

Do Therapy Dogs make money?

No, therapy dogs do not make money.  When you certify your dog, you are doing so as a volunteer. You or your dog will not be making any money doing therapy. I think the happiness that the dog brings to the people it visits is worth more than money anyway. Don’t you?

Take Away

Okay, so we have established that yes an older canine can be a therapy dog. We know that older canines make the best therapy dogs because of their experience with people, obedience and decreased activity. So there really is no worry of an older dog jumping up on a patient or child that it is visiting.

You can be 100% confident that your dog will listen to the commands it is given due to its age and obedience training. Your dog has also been around the block and back. So you know how the dog reacts to strangers and other personality types and different ages.

We also now know the steps we need to take in order for our older canine to become a therapy dog. Just think of how proud you will feel once your dog has become a therapy dog. Your dog will be out there helping people who need their emotional, affectionate support to help them get through their day.

Canines are a wonderful gift to humans. They make great companions for us. Dogs give us their all, love us unconditionally and share their souls with us. They will never be angry with us or talk back. Okay, well they make talk back if you tell them its bedtime when they don’t think it is.

I hope this article was helpful and you enjoyed it. Leave us a comment!

Until next time, take care and be safe.

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