What Are The Benefits Of Having A Therapy Dog?

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated November 9, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Therapy dogs can have numerous benefits, such as providing a sense of purpose, adding structure and routine to a person’s life, offering unconditional love, and alleviating symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. If you’re interested in other approaches to managing mental health challenges, you may wish to look into online therapy.

When Were Dogs First Used For Therapy?

Is A Therapy Dog The Right Choice For You?

In the early 1970s, Elaine Smith, the founder of TDI, Therapy Dogs International, noticed how patients responded positively when a chaplain made rounds with his golden retriever. The chaplain and his golden retriever seemed to brighten the day for many patients; they enjoyed petting and interacting with the dog. Patients who the chaplain and the dog visited seemed to be in a better mood after the visit, and positive moods can positively influence recovery.

In 1976, Elain Smith founded TDI, and the first TDI dog visits included five handlers and six dogs. From the first few visits, it was clear that TDI could bring happiness to patients who needed it, and TDI is still going strong. Organizations like TDI provide handlers and dogs in many different therapy situations; hospitals, hospices, senior living, and support groups are a few institutions that regularly use therapy dogs.

People who have anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions can also adopt or train their pets to be therapy dogs. When a pet is trained to be a therapy dog, the dog can accompany their owner everywhere they go to provide a sense of well-being and safety. Programs for therapy dogs tend to differ depending on where the owner and dog live, so it can be important to check with local and state governments to learn about potential procedures and guidelines that must be followed. It can also be important to understand that there is a difference between emotional support dogs and service dogs. Emotional support animals usually have limited rights, while service animals have completed rigorous training that allows them to attend more locations.

Personal Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs can be a wonderful way to experience the love and calming influence a canine companion can provide. Dogs often have an innate ability to love unconditionally, which can be very beneficial for those living with mental illnesses. There are usually two ways to get yourself a personal therapy dog; you can train the dog yourself or find someone who trains these dogs for a fee. Although any dog can be used as a therapy dog, temperament tends to be a key factor.

A therapy dog is generally a pet that can accompany you wherever you go, so it normally must be tolerant of other animals and people. The following is a list of traits to look for in a therapy dog:

  • A confident personality
  • Tolerance toward other animals
  • Comfortable in public places
    • Does not startle easily
    • Calm around loud sounds and strange smells
    • Unbothered by crowds
  • Completely housebroken
  • Tolerant of small children
  • Comfortable with strangers

It can be important to remember that your new therapy dog will generally go anywhere you do, and it is often impossible to predict how others will behave around your pet. In general, the more training and exposure to public places, people, and animals your dog has, the better. 

Benefits Of Owning A Therapy Dog

The benefits of owning a therapy dog can be endless. Therapy dogs can be great for anyone going through an emotional period in their lives; just petting a dog can lower your blood pressure! Having a close companion who loves without judgment, and is there no matter how crazy life gets, may be one of the best benefits a therapy dog can offer.

A therapy dog often provides routine, and routine can have a calming influence on life in general. Dogs must be walked, groomed, and fed, and this routine can add stability during times of change and stress. Walking a dog can be a form of exercise, and exercise usually releases endorphins that can reduce stress. Grooming is an activity that can develop a strong bond between a pet and its owner, and it can engage your mind and help you unwind. 

Therapy dogs can also be great at easing the symptoms of depression. Having a quiet and loving companion who listens no matter what can be an amazing experience for anyone living with depression. Dogs tend to have a way of brightening a mood with a bit of playful interaction or just a cute tilt of their head. In addition, the routine required for caring for a therapy dog can help those with depression by providing activities that require little effort and a big reward.

Research has shown that therapy dogs often provide a sense of comfort and safety to those in stressful situations. Interacting with and bonding with a therapy dog may trigger the body to increase oxytocin levels, lower cortisol levels, and trigger dopamine release. 

Top Therapy Dog Breeds

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While any dog can become a therapy dog, some breeds tend to be better suited for the task. The following dog breeds are often well-suited to become therapy dogs because of their temperaments and natural abilities.

  • Labrador retriever
  • Labradoodle
  • Poodle
  • Corgi
  • French bulldog
  • Pug
  • King Charles spaniel
  • Bichon Frise
Is A Therapy Dog The Right Choice For You?

Other Ways To Cope With Mental Health Challenges

Adopting a therapy dog or training your pet to become a therapy dog can be an effective method of alleviating symptoms of mental illness, but there can be other ways to cope as well. One of these may be online therapy, which can empower you to get help from a licensed mental health professional from the comfort of your own home or anywhere you have a reliable internet connection.

As this study explains, online therapy can be a viable substitute for in-person therapy as its efficacy is generally the same. This type of therapy can be an excellent choice for anyone who wants to improve their mental health  or feels they’d benefit from working with a professional.


The advantages of having a therapy dog can include added routine and structure, a sense of purpose, decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other conditions, and unconditional love. Aside from getting a therapy dog, there can be many ways to improve your mental health, such as working with a therapist through an online therapy platform.

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