Therapy / Assistance Dogs

We often get asked questions about therapy pets, in particular dogs.  Below are some of the more frequently asked questions and some information and resources that you may find useful.  The information on this page will be updated as necessary so please do check back again soon.

What is a therapy dog?  Is it an assistance dog?

Therapy dog is rather a general term and is often used to describe an dog that is used to benefit people in a therapeutic way.  This incorporates quite a wide range of potential activities with a wide range of potential people and clients.  Some pets take part in visiting programmes, whilst others take part in structured activities as part of a therapeutic programme or practice.  Therapy dogs in the UK are not considered to be assistance dogs – this is because an assistance dog is trained to perform specific tasks to help a disabled person and are usually qualified by one of the charitable organisations registered as members of Assistance Dogs UK.

An assistance dog is legally permitted to accompany its client, owner, or partner, at all times and in all places, within the United Kingdom.  A therapy dog does not have these same legal privileges.

Therapy dogs can be any breed and any size – from a Chihuahua to a Great Dane, from a Staffi to a Rottweiler to a Poodle.  What is important is whether they are suitable for the activties in terms of age, temperament, health, and training.

iStock_000000536727_ExtraSmallCan my dog become a therapy dog?

There is no simple answer to this question because it really depends on the activities you are expecting of your dog and your dog’s suitability to take part in the proposed activties.  If you have an idea about what you would like to do with your dog in a therapeutic setting, you can then determine whether they are suitable.  In the UK there are two main organisations that manage visiting programmes along with some other therapeutic activties.  Pets As Therapy in England and Therapet in Scotland.  Both of these organisations will have their own assessments as to determine the suitability of a dog (or other pet) to take part in a specific activity.  We recommend contacting one of these organisations if you would like to explore this further.

Where can I get my dog trained as a therapy dog?

This really depends on what you would like to do with your dog and what will be expected of him/her.  A visiting programme may not require any special training beyond basic obedience.  There are more advanced and specific areas of training that dogs can take part in for more therapeutic activities.

I am thinking of getting a dog and would like to get something suitable for therapy work? What sort of dog should I get?

All sorts of dogs can become therapy dogs.  It really doesn’t come down to breed or size or type.  What is more important are things like temperament and health.  More advanced therapuetic activties will also require a certain level of training.  A calm and friendly manner that is not too boisterous will be important for most therapeutic activties and visiting programmes.

Where can I get a Psychiatric Service Dog?

[Taken from Assistance Dogs UK] “There are no ADUK accredited assistance dog charities at the present time that train dogs for people with mental health issues where this is the only disability.”

I have a child with Autism – where can I get a trained assistance dog for my child?

Dogs for the Disabled have specific autism services for children and can provide a trained assistance dog to help parents with children aged between 3 and 10 years of age.  They also provide support for families to gain the most from a relationship between a pet dog and their child through the PAWS project.

February 2018: Click here for the updated advice issued by the Equality & Human Rights Commission for businesses regarding assistance dogs.