Getting Started

Therapy dogs are family pets with a good temperament who have been trained to be at ease in unfamiliar settings.  As a team, you and your dog can become the messengers of hope and comfort to those who may need it most.  If you think you and your dog have what it takes to become a therapy dog, read on.

This page briefly outlines the process of becoming registered by Alliance of Therapy Dogs, (formerly Therapy Dogs Incorporated) a national organization that provides the structure and guidelines for therapy dogs.  Full information on the ATD web site and explore the information under the ‘About Us’ and ‘Members’ links at the top of the page.

After you registered with ATD, you can visit on your own within ATD guidelines.  Local organizations, such as Lehigh Valley Therapy Dogs, help coordinate activities in the local area.pleasure for those in need.

dog bone nr1Is your dog suited for therapy dog work?
Is your dog your best friend?  Does he make you smile?  Is she part of your family?  Then your dog may have what it takes to be a therapy dog.  A good therapy dog is calm, controlled, confident and cordial.  He will encounter a variety of situations when visiting and must be trusted to respond in a safe and appropriate way.
dog bone nr2Your dog should have a good temperament and be well mannered
Your trained dog must be able to sit, stay, follow and come on command.  This training can be done by the owner or with the assistance of a You should review the ATD testing evaluation form to know what will be expected of you and your dog during the testing.  (Click on ‘Members’ link and then ‘Become a Member’ link for more information about the test.)
dog bone nr3Join the Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Follow the steps on the ATD website to become a member of ATD.  Before you can begin the process, you must complete a background check using the link on the ATD website.  After the background check you can proceed to…

Be evaluated by a ATD Tester/Observer
You and your dog will be evaluated as a team.  First, your handling skills will be evaluated.  After successful evaluation, then you will be observed in three site visits.  During these visits you and your dog will become familiar with the visiting process and be evaluated as a team.  Visit the ATD web site and click on ‘Find a Tester/Observer’ link at the top of the page to locate a Tester/Observer near you.

Understand that Tester/Observers are volunteers and may have limited availability, however they must be available to evaluate you within 3 months of your request, at a mutually agreeable location.

You will need to visit the ATD web site and locate the following documents.  Print and bring these documents with you to your initial test:

          • ATD Member Application
          • Release of Claims Form
          • Current year ATD Test
          • Test Evaluation Form
          • Required for testing – copy of proof of rabies vaccination
          • Required for testing- proof of negative fecal exam done within the last 12 months. (signed & dated ‘VETERINARIAN OR CLINIC’ section on application or written proof)
          • 4′ or shorter leash and
          • Water for dog (available)
          • Bag for clean-up (available)
          • Paper towels (available)
dog bone nr4Complete your registration with Alliance of Therapy Dogs
Registration provides you with the benefits of being associated with a nationally recognized organization.  Member teams are insured while on a therapy dog visit and have the support of the national organization.  Your Tester/Observer will give you the paperwork necessary to complete your registration.
dog bone nr5Optional – Joining a local group of Therapy Dog Volunteers
As a registered Therapy Dog/Handler team with your ATD credentials, you are welcome to visit on your own in any facility that welcomes Therapy Dogs as long as you make arrangements with the facility.  You also have the option of joining a local group that has established visits.  You can also of course do a combination of individual and group visits.  The choice is yours.  You, as a handling team are required to make a visit every three months to keep your ATD membership active.  Joining a local organization can make this requirement much easier to achieve.  One local group is Lehigh Valley Therapy Dogs.


You can train your dog yourself, however, if you choose to not train your dogs on your own, you should select a trainer based upon their reputation.  Talk to friends and fellow dog owners. Trainers often are better with one breed than another.  Visit the training facility to observe the classes in session.  The decision to train your dog yourself or enlist the assistance of another is up to you.
Equipment that is not allowed includes clickers, retractable, elastic/bungee or chain leashes, pinch, prong, spiked or electronic collars. Collars, including slip, buckle, quick release, martingale, limited slip, or any other smooth collars made of chain, nylon or leather, are acceptable. Leashes must be 4 feet or shorter in length and made of material strong enough for the size/strength of the dog. The use of a traffic leash is recommended for large dogs.  The collar should fit snugly enough so the dog cannot easily back out of the collar or slip it off of his/her head. A slip collar should be correctly worn so it releases properly as designed. Head halters and body halters/harnesses made of fabric webbing or leather with metal or plastic buckles are acceptable. Body halters/harnesses fastened with Velcro® or metal clothing snaps are not allowed. Dogs wearing a body halter/harness or a head halter must also wear an approved collar.