Tips for Training a Play Therapy Dog

by | Jan 5, 2023 | Animal preparation & training, Animal Assisted Play Therapy®

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More information on this topic is available in the Play Therapy with Kids and Canines book that can be purchased in our on-line store. It is important that all dogs receive good training and socialization experiences, but this is especially true of therapy dogs. Socialization should start very early in the puppy’s life and continue throughout its life.

I strongly urge therapists/handlers to train their dogs using non-aversive, primarily positive dog training methods. Not only is this the most humane way to train a dog, but it also helps establish a strong, positive relationship between canine and owner. Nonaversive methods are based on behavioral science, with which most therapists are quite familiar, and they have the strongest research evidence for their effectiveness.

Furthermore, positive dog training methods provide the best model for children who are learning to relate to dogs. Therapists are always providing a model in how to relate to dogs during sessions, and the best way to ensure a positive model is to learn positive training methods. Children also might view the therapist/handler’s approach to the dog as an example of what they can expect in their own therapeutic relationship, so once again, a strong case is made for using aversive-free, behaviorally-oriented approaches.

A wonderful resource on this subject is the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. This international organization provides information on how to choose a trainer as well as a dog trainer search. I would suggest trying to find someone who is a “CPDT” (Certified Professional Dog Trainer), if possible.

In the U.S., the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program is an excellent first step toward therapy dog credentialing. Visit the AKC website:, then search “CGC.” This program is open to all owners and dogs, including mixed breeds.

International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants

Dr. Risë VanFleet is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with IAABC.