Train To Be a Therapy Team

Volunteer with Your Dog

 The Austin Dog Alliance Pet Therapy Program is the most elite and reputable program in the state of Texas. With over 300 partner facilities and 170 pet therapy teams volunteering in the Greater Austin area, we are always ready to welcome more teams who share our desire 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 and adults
  • Is calm around new odors, noises and environments
Pet Therapy Dog Prerequisites:
  • Your dog is at least 1 year old.
  • Your dog has lived with you for at least 6 months.
  • Your dog has mastered basic obedience commands.  
    • Your dog can sit, down, stay, walk nicely on a leash, leave it, and remain neutral around other dogs when on leash. Our Dog Manners 1 class is a good starting point if your dog does not have these skills.
  • Your dog is social and outgoing with humans and is not shy with strangers. Your dog will let complete strangers hug him/her.
Handler Prerequisites:
  • You are social with strangers.
  • You speak with your dog in a conversational tone of voice.
  • You use positive, science-based training methods with your dog. You do NOT use aversive training techniques (popping your dog’s leash) or aversive training equipment (choke chains, prong collars, electronic shock collars).  

Steps to Becoming an Austin Dog Alliance Therapy Team

1. Register for Pet Therapy Class – Level 1 Predictable. 

With the first level of pet therapy training, you and your dog will have the expertise and certification to enter predictable environments.

A Predictable environment is one that typically has a low level of activity with high involvement from staff. Predictable environments include:
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospices
  • Alzheimer Units
  • One-on-one reading sessions in schools and libraries (Bow Wow Reading)

2. Sign up for the Pet Therapy Evaluation.

After you have completed the Pet Therapy Class – Level 1 Predictable session and have received feedback from your instructor that your dog is indeed ready to test, you may register for an evaluation.

Before being accepted as an Austin Dog Alliance therapy team, you and your dog must pass an evaluation. The evaluation takes place in a location where the dog has never been and must interact with complete strangers – this is meant to simulate a real pet therapy visit. The test consists of two parts that assesses the dog’s obedience skills and the dog’s temperament in a variety of situations.   

During the evaluation, we are assessing:
  • how well you and your dog can work together as a team
  • how proactive you are with your dog in a variety of situations
  • your dog’s body language 
    • We do this to ensure that the dog is enjoying the interactions with the strangers during the evaluation. We feel strongly that if the dogs do not enjoy the exercises, they should not be forced to visit in therapy situations.
All new teams are eligible to volunteer in predictable environments.  

3. Join the Austin Dog Alliance Pet Therapy Group.

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 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:
  • $1 Million in liability coverage when volunteering at an Austin Dog Alliance partner facility
  • Support of a volunteer therapy coordinator who will assist you in finding a volunteer facility that meets your needs
  • Background check
  • Volunteer t-shirt
  • Twice a year volunteer appreciation events, including the end of year awards dinner
  • 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. 

Continuing Education – Complex Certification

After completing 30 hours of volunteer work in predictable environments, any pet therapy teams that are interested in working in more complex settings are eligible to continue their education. They may register for Pet Therapy Class – Level 2 Complex class to begin that journey.

A complex setting is one that can be described as having multiple distractions and a lot of activity. Typically there is not much staff involvement in complex settings. These include:
  • Hospitals
  • Classroom/library story times
  • Dog safety/group presentations
  • Events
  • Occupational/Physical Therapy/Rehab Centers

Complex Plus Certification

The Pet Therapy Training – Level 3 Complex Plus training class is for complex pet therapy teams that have successfully completed and documented 30 hours of volunteer work at the complex level. This course is for complex pet therapy teams wanting to build upon their skills and work in complex plus pet therapy settings.  

A complex plus setting is one that has multiple individuals present at once (2 or more) that have significant learning, developmental, or behavior challenges. These include:
  • Special Needs Classrooms that serve students with autism, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, etc.
  • Adult Care Facilities that serve adults with special needs who need assistance and care with living on their own because of significant learning difficulties, autism, etc.  
  • Psychiatric Facilities 
  • Events for Special Needs Populations

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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