Therapy Dogs are wonderful. They brighten the days of patients, encourage kids at schools, and generally offer comfort and reassurance. Sometimes it's easier for someone to interact with a dog than a person. The dog might be able to help a person when another person is not able to. Wanting to train your dog to be a Therapy Dog is wonderful. It can take a lot of time, effort, and consistency, but the reward is well worth the effort for you, the dog, and everyone that he visits.
In order to be a therapy dog, your dog will need to have a safe, confident, and friendly temperament. If your dog naturally has a great temperament then the proper training can take care of the rest, but if your dog is very skittish or at all aggressive, then he will not be a good candidate for therapy work. Fearfulness or aggression can put the people he is supposed to visit and help in danger, and the type of work and environment involved in therapy work can also cause large amounts of stress for a fearful or aggressive dog.
Many of the behaviors that your dog will need to learn for therapy work are more advanced versions of the behaviors taught in preparation for a Canine Good Citizen test. If you wish to pursue class training, to further practice or learn the skills that your pup will need, then a class that is preparing for the CGC, Canine Good Citizenship test can be helpful, or you might be able to find a class specifically tailored to preparing your dog for therapy work.
Remember to be patient and positive while training your dog. Unlike some training, therapy work training does not involve just one skill. The behaviors that are involved in therapy work include multiple things that go into teaching a dog how to be generally well behaved, social, obedient, calm, and confident. For this reason, it is best to implement all three of the methods mentioned below, rather than just one of them.
If you are using 'The Socializing Method' then you will need lots of treats and something to carry them with you in, such as a small plastic bag in your pocket or a treat pouch. You will also need at least a hundred different people for your dog to meet, including men, women, children of various ages, disabled people, people of various races, people wearing different types of clothing, including hats, sunglasses, and full body clothing, people using wheelchairs, people using canes, and people who walk and move differently. The more people and the more different types of people that your dog meets, the better prepared he will be for visiting people later on. You will also need lots of other dogs for your dog to be around. Public, dog-friendly locations can be great places to see other dogs. You will also need lots of different environments for your dog to visit and be in, various smells, various sounds, and various sights. In addition to all of that, you will need anything specific that your dog is likely to encounter during therapy work that he might not otherwise encounter during his daily life, and that might frighten him at first. Such things might include sliding glass doors and elevators. For all of these things, you will need to be able to go places with your dog, since bringing all of those experiences into your home will not be an option.
If you are using 'The Handling Method' then you will need lots of treats, patience, gentleness, and volunteers to help you.