Therapy Dogs

Learn more about our therapy dog certification pilot program.

Boy reading a story to a canine companions therapy dog

Here at Canine Companions for Independence, we believe in the joyful, transformative power of the human-canine partnership – in every form! More than one-third of dogs released from assistance dog training have gone on to serve as therapy dogs in their communities. We think that’s incredible, and we are proud that through our new therapy dog certification pilot program, we can continue to support and engage these volunteers while providing suitable released dogs with impactful jobs.

A therapy dog is a pet that accompanies their owner into specific settings for the benefit of the residents or clients in the setting and/or as part of a therapeutic intervention. Studies have shown that interacting with therapy dogs as part of an animal-assisted intervention approach yields both physical and psychological benefits to humans and the dog.  The therapy dog pilot program will provide formal therapy dog certification and ongoing support for a small group of eligible teams near our headquarters in Santa Rosa, California, with the goal of expanding the program more broadly in the future.

All Canine Companions® dogs receive extensive temperamental and medical evaluations and dogs selected for this program must be approved by our expert staff in both our national veterinary and training departments.

The Canine Companions Therapy Dog Certification Program is an American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized program. Teams that are certified through this program are eligible to receive AKC Therapy Dog titles.

Therapy Dog Certification

As part of our pilot program, Canine Companions is seeking owners of eligible Canine Companions released dogs (see FAQ below for eligibility information) living within 100 miles of Santa Rosa, CA, who would like to participate in the program.

To be eligible for certification as a therapy dog handler, applicants must:

  • Complete coursework and examinations in preparation for their certification.
  • Be willing to attend a therapy dog certification with a Canine Companions evaluator.
  • Be willing to participate in on-going Canine Companions training and annual recertification through the therapy dog support program.
  • Be able to demonstrate the ability to safely and effectively control, manage and care for the dog.
  • Have adequate vision to observe, intervene and manage a dog’s behavior.
  • Be available to volunteer with their setting of choice or incorporate the therapy dog into their eligible professional work for a minimum of 12 hours per year.

If you are interested in applying to be a part of the Canine Companions therapy dog pilot program, please click here. 

Volunteer Therapy Dog Evaluator Certification

Canine Companions seeks eligible volunteers to administer the training and evaluation for therapy dog teams in the field.

To be eligible to volunteer as a therapy dog evaluator, applicants must:

  • Have a documented minimum of 100 hours of experience as a therapy or facility dog handler.
  • Maintain active status as an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC)® Approved Evaluator or be willing to obtain and maintain such status.
  • Be familiar with therapy or facility dog settings.
  • Be willing to complete training specific to Canine Companions for Independence, including attending an in-person, 3-day training course.
  • Complete relevant, dog-specific training in animal behavior.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer evaluator, please click here.

Therapy Dog Program FAQs

Therapy dogs are invited in certain settings to increase the well-being of clients, residents and students.  They are most commonly found at hospitals, schools and nursing homes as well as in private therapy settings.  Except in those specifically approved settings, the therapy dog is otherwise considered a pet dog and has no special public access rights.


Outside of approved facilities, bringing the therapy dog into public places where pet dogs are not normally allowed is explicitly forbidden. Canine Companions reserves the right to revoke the certification of any therapy dog handler found in violation of this policy.

No national standards exist for the training of therapy dogs. Canine Companions strives to uphold these teams to a high standard of excellence despite the lack of national standards.


Dogs chosen for therapy dog teams have passed numerous behavioral and health screenings to ensure they are safe and comfortable around various people to whom they may provide comfort.  All dogs participating in the program must be approved by our expert staff in both our national veterinary and training departments.


Handlers go through an application and interview process before being approved to participate in the program and must complete coursework and training specific to therapy dog work, including passing written and in-person examinations while working with Canine Companions staff and volunteer evaluators. They must demonstrate professionalism and be able to safely care for and manage the therapy dog in a variety of different settings and around different people. In all work, handlers are required to abide by Canine Companions’ Code of Ethics.


Finally, through our certification process, our therapy dog teams are AKC Canine Good Citizen certified and must demonstrate suitability through the practical examination.

As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs work for a handler with a disability and are individually trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate the symptoms of that person’s disability. Service dogs have public access rights, meaning that they are permitted to accompany their handler who has disabilities anywhere that is open to the public, even places that do not permit pet dogs. 


In contrast, a therapy dog is a pet that accompanies their owner into specific settings for the benefit of the residents or clients in the setting and/or as part of a therapeutic intervention. Therapy dogs are not necessarily trained in specific tasks, nor are they working for the benefit of their handler. Aside from specific settings where they have approval to perform therapy dog work, they may not be taken into public places where pet dogs are not permitted.

Facility dogs work specifically with professionals who are responsible for handling and caring for the facility dog and are placed in roles where there is a need for the highest caliber of temperament and health and/or a high level of training in specific tasks. Facility dog handlers are committed to long-term employment where they directly serve clients with special needs a minimum of twenty hours per week.


For more information, visit our facility dog information page here.

In a school setting, a therapy dog may help engage students in educational and stress-relief activities in the classroom.  In a health care environment, activities such as grooming, feeding and playing fetch with a therapy dog can aid patients in medical rehabilitation and psychiatric programs.  A well-mannered and highly trained therapy dog encourages feelings of calm and security for clients in a visitation setting such as a therapist’s office. These are just a few examples of the many ways that therapy dogs help their clients!

Adopting a Canine Companions released dog includes a $1000 adoption fee (waived for the puppy raiser of the dog), a $100 initial certification fee and a $30 annual therapy dog recertification fee. This fee includes liability insurance coverage and pays for the Canine Companions logo vest or bandana, issued at the time of certification.  Canine Companions offers therapy dog teams support services free of charge.

Dogs that are eligible for the therapy dog program must be from the Canine Companions program. Eligible types of dogs include:
  • Released dogs.
  • Retired breeders.
  • Retired assistance dogs.
  • Active graduate dogs, with additional approval from the graduate department and their personal veterinarian.
  • Active male breeders, with additional approval from the breeding department.
Due to health and safety concerns, active female breeders are not eligible to participate in this program. All dogs participating in the program must be approved by the veterinary and training departments as medically and temperamentally suitable for therapy dog work:  

Health: Dogs in the therapy dog program are required to be up to date on vaccines, eating an approved diet and treats, within 5 pounds of their ideal weight, on monthly preventatives, receiving annual veterinary exams and should not be ill.


Temperament: Dogs in the therapy dog program should be social, manageable and appropriate for the setting(s) where they will be working. Temperamental characteristics that would prohibit participation in the program include, but are not limited to, aggression, fear of people, inappropriate toileting and inappropriate vocalization when on leash.

At this time, Canine Companions is only offering this pilot program to handlers of eligible Canine Companions dogs who are already performing therapy dog work in their communities and who live within 100 miles of our headquarters in Santa Rosa, California. If you meet these requirements, you can click here for more information. Otherwise, we look forward to being able to expand this program in the future – stay tuned!

Canine Companions makes therapy dog certification available to owners/guardians of eligible dogs (see Eligibility). Handlers may be dual certified with other organizations but should be aware that these other organizations may not permit dual certification.  

We recognize that individual programs and facilities may have policies that prevent the Canine Companions therapy dog certification program from being the best fit.