What Does a Therapy Dog Do?

  • September 23, 2021

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By Jaclyn McKewan, Electronic Resources Librarian

For Fall 2021, NU Library is once again hosting therapy dog visits. Our next scheduled visits are Wednesday, Sept. 29th (12pm-2pm) and Thursday, Sept. 30th (11am-1pm), in our 2nd Floor Teachers' Studio.

As both an NU Librarian and the owner of a certified therapy dog, I'd like to answer a few questions about what therapy dogs are, and how this role differs from other animal "jobs." My dog, Ash (a 7-year old Chihuahua), is certified as a therapy dog through The SPCA Serving Erie County and their Paws for Love program.

Therapy dogs visit people in a variety of locations, providing comfort, stress-relief, companionship, or just plain enjoyment. They may visit hospitals, nursing homes, airports, K-12 schools, or colleges.

While Therapy Dogs may sound similar to Service Dogs or Emotional Support Dogs, there are some important differences:

  • Service Dogs or Emotional Support Dogs provide services to their owners, while Therapy Dogs provide services to others - the people at the locations they visit. 
  • Service Dogs are defined by the ADA as "a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability." These tasks can include reaching objects for a person in a wheelchair, alerting others to a seizure or health issue, or guiding someone who's visually impaired. Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs do not perform a specific task, but they provide comfort just by being there for people.
  • Service Dogs must be trained so that they can perform their task and be well-behaved. For Therapy Dogs, the process can be a little different depending on the certifying organization. When Ash got certified by Paws for Love, he wasn't required to take a specific training course, but he had to pass an evaluation, so having prior obedience training is helpful. In the evaluation, Ash demonstrated that he knew basic commands, could walk nicely on a leash, was comfortable being handled by strangers, and wasn't excessively bothered by sudden sounds.
  • Under the ADA, Service Dogs are permitted in many places that don't otherwise allow animals, such as stores, restaurants, or doctor's offices. Emotional Support Dogs are not covered by the ADA, so businesses are not required to allow them, but some may still decide to do so. Therapy Dogs are allowed in many places that wouldn't ordinarily allow dogs, but only for planned visits. So, I can bring Ash with me when he is participating as a Therapy Dog at Library events. But I cannot bring him to work with me at other times.

NU Library will be hosting more therapy dog events throughout the semester. Watch our website or follow us on Facebook or Twitter for future announcements.