A therapy dog is trained to provide affection and comfort to people in need. These are often pets who have undergone special training to accompany their owners to hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, and many other areas. Some live in a facility, and some are specially trained to work as comfort dogs at disaster areas.
A great example of comfort dogs is the 9-11 disaster where 318 dogs and their handlers worked around the clock.
There are three basic kinds of therapy dogs:
Therapeutic visitation dogs visit hospitals, nursing homes, and other places where a visiting dog can comfort and motivate people. These are often volunteers.
Animal assisted therapy dogs assist therapists with physical and occupational therapy. They often work in rehabilitation facilities.
Facility therapy dogs live in a facility, often a nursing home, and are trained to help patients with Alzheimer’s and similar.
In many areas therapy dogs must pass the Canine Good Citizen Test. There is also a therapy dog certification test. Therapy dogs and their handlers are not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
There is an important difference between therapy dogs and assistance dogs: while assistance dogs should be left alone to perform their job, people are encouraged to approach and pet therapy dogs.