Train To Be a Therapy Team

Volunteer with Your Dog

Volunteering with your dog is a fun and rewarding way to give back to your community. Austin Dog Alliance has over 200 partner facilities that would eagerly welcome another therapy dog and volunteer. Opportunities exist to work with children in schools, special need adults and children in a variety of settings, the elderly in nursing homes or in a hospital environment, working with patients of all ages. You can volunteer several times a month, or just once a month, the choice is yours. You can volunteer during school hours or in the evenings or on weekends. If you would like to volunteer close to your home, our pet therapy coordinator can assist you in locating sites that will minimize your travel time.
To become an Austin Dog Alliance therapy team volunteer, both you and your dog need to have the desire and training to serve the community. The ideal therapy dog has the following characteristics:
  • Enjoys petting and handling by a wide variety of people
  • Is calm and can focus on you when another dog is nearby
  • Is predictable and controllable in all situations
  • Enjoys being hugged by children
  • Is calm around new odors, noises and environments
A therapy dog can be any breed; temperament and training are the key to success. Although a dog cannot start volunteering until he or she reaches one year of age, learning to enjoy a wide variety of people and situations can begin as young as 8 weeks in our Puppy Manner class.

Steps to Becoming an Austin Dog Alliance Therapy Team

Master the basics

Before becoming a certified therapy animal, it is important that your dog master basic commands. At Austin Dog Alliance, our professional training instructors are well-versed in training dogs to enjoy the social aspects of therapy as well as mastering the basic commands. Puppies as young as 8 weeks can enroll in Puppy Power class. Dogs older than 14 weeks can enroll in Dog Manners or Puppy Manners to learn the basics. The basic skills which must be mastered before progressing to the next course include:
  • Sit
  • Down
  • Come
  • Stay
  • Leave it
  • Loose leash walking
  • Greeting a new person without jumping
When working with your dog to bring joy and healing to a client, it is important that you and your dog work as a team. Consequently, Austin Dog Alliance instructors stress positive reinforcement training methods. Handlers who pull, jerk, push or tug on their dogs to get compliance to requests, are not appropriate as a therapy dog handler.

Pet therapy class

After mastering obedience basic skills, your dog begins intensive training to become a therapy dog. You do not need to complete your basic training at Austin Dog Alliance. As long as your dog is friendly with a wide variety of people, is at least 1 year of age and has mastered the basics, you are welcome to enroll in this course. The six week therapy dog training class includes lessons on:
  • Reading your dog’s body language so you can appropriately handle a variety of situations
  • Approaching counters politely
  • Working around other dogs successfully
  • Working with children
  • Working in a hospital or nursing home
  • Perfecting the basics in a variety of distracting situations – sit, down, come, stay, leash walking, leave it
  • Working around medical equipment
  • Preparing for a visit – grooming, what to bring, insurance, dog veterinarian requirements
  • Protocols for working in hospitals, nursing homes and schools
  • Preparing for the Austin Dog Alliance Therapy Dog Evaluation
  • Preparing for the Pet Partner Therapy Dog Evaluation – (For students who will be visiting Dell Children’s Hospital.)
Pet therapy seminar

For dogs and handlers who have prior experience working as a therapy team or the dog has already completed extensive training, we offer a pet therapy seminar as an alternative to the pet therapy class. The seminar will review how to prepare for the evaluation, protocols for visiting and volunteering in a variety of environments. At the conclusion of the seminar, your instructor will provide you with an assessment on if she feels you and your dog are ready for the evaluation.


Before being accepted as an Austin Dog Alliance therapy team, you and your dog must pass an evaluation in an environment that is new to the dog. The evaluation takes approximately half an hour and consists of ten exercises to test obedience skills and ten exercises to assess the dog’s comfort in a variety of situations. The evaluation includes watching your dog’s body language as he or she is being approached by a staging individual, by a group of children, by someone who is talking and acting with irregular patterns and more. During the evaluation, we are assessing if you and your dog can work well together as a team. Does your dog look to you for guidance and do you know when to provide guidance? We are also assessing the dog’s body language to ensure that the dog is enjoying the interaction with the strangers. We feel strongly that if the dog does not enjoy the exercise, they should not be made to visit in therapy situations.

Membership has its privileges

Once you pass the evaluation, you and your dog are eligible for membership in Austin Dog Alliance’s therapy team program. You will be required to submit proof that your dog is healthy enough for visits and that all vaccinations are current. For the safety of our clients, your background will also be checked. For teams that are not facing financial hardship, a yearly membership fee is required. This fee offsets some of the costs of providing you with the following:
  • $2 Million in liability coverage when volunteering at an Austin Dog Alliance partner facility
  • Support by a therapy coordinator who will assist you in working with a mentor and finding a partner facility that meets your needs
  • Background check
  • Volunteer t-shirt
  • Twice a year volunteer appreciation events, including the end of year awards dinner
  • Access to free continuing education seminars, including PTSD 101, Autism 101 and Bow Wow Reading Dogs.
  • Ability to consult with a professional dog trainer when needed


In order to provide consistent and up-to-date care to all our clients, Austin Dog Alliance re-certifies its therapy teams every three years.

Canine Assisted Therapy Advanced Skills Class

After you have been volunteering for a minimum of 6 months, you and your dog are eligible to enroll in the Canine Assisted Therapy Advanced Skills class. This course is designed to assist psychologists, physical therapists, counselors and special-education teachers with the skills needed to provide therapy for special need children. The course discusses the therapeutic benefits of dogs and includes advanced skills such as working in close proximity and off-leash with other dogs.

We look forward to welcoming you and your dog to our therapy dog team. 
 Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need additional information.  
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