Good Therapy Dog Breeds

The Service and Therapy Dog forum is for all service and therapy dogs regardless of whether or not their status is legally defined by federal or state law, how they are trained, or whether or not they are "certified." Posts questioning or disputing a person's need for a service or therapy dog, the validity of a person's service or therapy dog, or the dog's ability to do the work of a service or therapy dog are not permitted in this forum. Please keep discussions fun, friendly, and helpful at all times.

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Barked: Tue Sep 9, '08 10:30pm PST 
I am thinking about down the line adopting a dog to become a therapy dog. A person that I know has trained her golden retriever to be a therapy dog and it makes a great therapy dog, it would sit and cuddle with you all day. I love German Shepherds, but I don't think they would make great therapy dogs just simply because they are so attached to their owners and are not that affectionate.

So I was hoping I could get a list of some ideas of good therapy dogs. I'm planning on going into medicine to become a doctor and would like to be able to comfort patients if they choose to have the dog present.

Because I'm- Duncan, that's- why

Barked: Tue Sep 9, '08 11:40pm PST 
I worked as a therapy dog! It was a program in conjunction with the local Humane Society. I had to prove that I knew basic obedience and got tested in different situations, being handled and having paws and ears and tail handled, and being around wheelchairs and such.

We went to a local retirement/nursing home and to the local children's hospital.

One day at the nursing home we sat with a guy who was in one of those lying-down wheelchairs and he started petting me. He started telling my Mom that he had a beagle when he was younger and telling stories about the dog. The staff at the place were amazed. They said the guy hadn't talked in weeks and seldom talked at all!cloud 9

Anyway, our crew of volunteer therapy dogs also included a golden retriever (you mentioned knowing one, they seem to excel at this type of work!!); a pomeranian who was an excellent lap-sitter; and a sweet, sweet Lab/mixed breed.

I think the main thing with therapy work is having that calm personality and affectionate nature. It can be found in a lot of breeds and don't forget mixed breeds too.

I've got some- big shoes to- fill!
Barked: Wed Sep 10, '08 7:35am PST 
Practically any breed can be a therapy dog. It is individual dogs within each breed that do not make good therapy dogs. Part of it is also how the dog is raised.

If you were to pick a german shepherd pup that got certain scores on a puppy temperment test and had friendly parents and then were to socialize the pup with many, many different people from the time it was a wee baby, go to obedience classes with the pup, get your CGC etc.. you would have a german shepherd that would most likely do therapy dog work.

The problem about selecting a certain breed for therapy dog work and using breed as your only selection criteria is that you may not get a good dog for therapy dog work.

I have seen individual Golden retrievers that are nasty and bite. I have also seen many agressive labs, a shi tzu, beagles, cocker spanials, a springer spanial, poodles, huskys, a malamute, boston terriers, a pug, muts of all sorts... you get the picture. I have also seen some very nice examples of these breeds that would have made wonderful therapy dogs.

Try googleing temperment tests and read up on how to pick the right puppy, research different breeders to see who breeds for the temperment you need and then get the breed that you want.


Barked: Wed Sep 10, '08 8:20am PST 
I completely agree with Bree. It's not the breed that determines whether a dog is likely to be a good therapy dog, rather it is the individual dog. In general, I do not feel that Shelties make good therapy dogs. They are often stand-offish, reserved around strangers, and too focused on their handlers to give the attention to others that is needed. But there are individuals within the breed (my Gio, for example) that don't follow those "rules" and make wonderful therapy dogs.

What makes all the difference in the world is the dog's natural ability to be tolerant, accepting, and "bombproof". If that natural ability isn't there, that dog is not going to excel at being a therapy dog. That ability is not reliably trainable, it is either present from birth or not at all. That is then coupled with solid training and socializing. You can take any dog and train it to be solid in obedience work, socialize it to not be reactive around other dogs or people. But that doesn't mean that that dog will be a good therapy dog. Any dog can be trained to tolerate external stimuli, but I personally don't feel comfortable relying on training alone to ensure that the dog behaves. When it comes to visits with elderly, frail, compromised, or young individuals, training is not enough. The natural propensity to react appropriately should dominate everything the dog does when in that situation.

As such, I am not a proponent of getting a dog for the purpose of becoming a therapy dog. I do not feel that there should be specific training towards being a therapy dog, and I do not feel that dog should be tested to be a therapy dog before the age of 2-3 years, minimum. Doing any of those things is essentially setting the dog up for failure.

What I would suggest, and I realize that this may not be a popular opinion but it is my opinion none the less, would be to get a dog because it fits your lifestyle and is what you want in a companion. Spend the first 3-4 years of the dogs life getting it involved in everything you can. Train it to play many roles, not just one. So enroll it in obedience or rally-o classes and take it to the level of competition. Train it in an active sport like agility, flyball, disc, dock diving, feild trials, herding, etc. and take it to the level of competition. Training AND competition together will mold the dog in such a way that is not obtainable with mere puppy classes and socialization exercises. Let the dog find its niche, take it to seminars or classes even if you have no intention of competing in that sport. Let the dog "try" many different activities for a couple of years, get a couple of titles on the dog. Then, when it is a middle aged dog, has grown a brain and is as confident as it will ever be ... test it for therapy dog work. If by that point in life, after experiencing all that it has experienced, it does not pass the therapy dog test, then it was just not meant to be a therapy dog. BUT you have all that other work that you have done previously that you can still enjoy with your dog.

Learning and activity need to be a life-long process for people and for dogs. So while your dog is young and active and crazy do fun, energetic, exciting activities with it. Then, when the dog is middle-aged or older and begins to slow down and can no longer keep up or enjoy the high energy games it played when it was younger, you can continue to teach it and give it a slower job that it can handle.

Barked: Wed Sep 10, '08 9:27am PST 
I agree with Bree too, the breed is really unimportant but the tempermant of the particular dog.

Hey down the street from where I live there is a long term care home that has a therapy PIG!


Barked: Wed Sep 10, '08 9:24pm PST 
I guess I was more just looking for affectionate breeds. Thanks for the info though it is helpful.

Work hard; Play- harder.
Barked: Wed Sep 10, '08 11:04pm PST 
Gio has a very valid point. Beagles are known for generally being lovey dogs, but Scooter would HATE being a therapy dog; his double aunt would have been suited for it since she would climb into anyone's lap as long as they would give her attention.

I think there is starting to be a trend of people "pushing" this kind of work on dogs, too young. I'd be interested in seeing what the wash out rate is for therapy dogs, broke down by age.

Mama's Boy~- *Therapy Dog*
Barked: Thu Sep 11, '08 7:38pm PST 
I've got a 9 month old german shepherd, and she's the most friendly dog I've ever seen, she loves everyone and is a great example for the breed. My plans for her to become a therapy dog when she gets older, I think she'll make a good one. I dont think the breed matters for therapy dog, my current therapy dog is a dachshund, you dont see many dachshunds as therapy dogs either, just depends on the individual dog.
Ginger DSA- ThD TT CGC - &hearts

My Angel
Barked: Sat Sep 13, '08 11:36am PST 
I am planning to get a German Shepherd to be a therapy dog in the future. I know a number of GSDs who are wonderful therapy dogs. It just depends on the personality. The two breeders I am considering have their breeding dogs trained as therapy dogs, and I plan to pick a puppy with the type of personality that makes a good therapy dog (friendly, curious, outgoing but not over-active). The breeders know what to look for as well and will help me pick the right puppy.
Actually I know/have volunteered alongside many therapy dogs of all sorts of breeds including Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Collies, a Pharaoh Hound, many mutts, Shih Tzus, several Pomeranians, Goldens, Labs, Shelties, a Mini Aussie, Bulldogs, APBTs, standard Poodles, a number of Dobermans, a Belgian Sheepdog, a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, an Italian Spinone, and a Cairn Terrier.
Kati- *CGC,TDI*

Kati bug
Barked: Mon Sep 15, '08 9:19am PST 
Kati is a German Shepherd, and I'm planning on her becoming a therapy dog once she's older. She's only 8 months now. But she has the personality to be a great therapy dog, she's super friendly, loves everybody, doesnt get startled or scared by anything, and is pretty calm for a puppy. I cant wait to see how she turns out as an adult and start our therapy dog work together.
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