Join Your Therapy Dog

Is Volunteering with Therapy Dogs United Right for You?

There are two different types of therapy dog outreach programs available through Therapy Dogs United, and either option – if not both – may be a good fit for you and your dog.

Therapeutic visitation dogs, commonly referred to as simply "therapy dogs" - is the most widely used method of animal therapy. These dogs are household pets that make visits with their owner, referred to as a volunteer handler. Together, the dog and the handler work as a team to reach beyond traditional forms of therapeutic healing and treatment.

Animal-assisted therapy dogs
assist physical and occupational therapists in meeting specific goals or "measured results" important to a patient's recovery. These dogs are used to help anyone suffering from a stroke, physical injury, or trauma. AAT (animal-assisted therapy) dogs and their volunteer handler team up with trained therapists to use agility equipment and recreational therapy techniques. The end result encourages a patient to regain mobility, strength, range of motion, balance and confidence.

Therapy Dogs United, Inc. is proud to offer both therapeutic and animal-assisted visitation programs that benefit the public at large.  Once your dog is certified with us, we will help you choose which program is right for you and your dog.

We welcome volunteers with or without a dog. To request a TDU Volunteer Application, call (814) 456-3647 or Email Us. Please let us know if you want your application sent via Email, or standard mail.

Should I Become a Volunteer Handler?

Volunteer today. Here's why. Our Paw Power networks of certified therapy dogs provide hope. Please consider the following questions to decide if being a therapy dog volunteer is the right fit for you:

  • Are you friendly with other people and their pets?
  • Do you enjoy interacting with people of all ages?
  • Do you have the desire to interact with children and/or adults? (Realize that the people you come in contact with may be in poor health, or need special assistance).
  • Are you comfortable in a nursing home, or medical setting?
  • Do you have the time and energy to volunteer on a regular basis?
  • Do you have the time to continually train and update your dog's skill level?
  • Are you able to maintain your dog's appearance as required for all therapy visits?
  • Are you willing to keep your dog's vet records and shots up-to-date?

Is My Dog a Good Therapy Dog Candidate?

  • Is your dog friendly and accepting of strangers?
  • Does your dog get along with dogs of all sizes and breeds?
  • Is your dog calm, able to sit on command, and stay for a long period of time?
  • Is your dog comfortable around adults and children? Or prefer one to the other?
  • Is your dog able to walk calmly through a crowd?
  • Is your dog able to stay focused even with distractions?
  • Does your dog enjoy being groomed or pet by a stranger?
  • Is your dog confident and carefree?
  • Is your dog relaxed even with loud, disruptive noises?
  • Does your dog have good manners even when you're not in the room?
  • Is your dog comfortable in a new, or changing, environment?

Take the Test: Be a Certified Therapy Dog

Therapy Dogs United, Inc. requires that every dog certified as a canine volunteer pass a very difficult and challenging obedience and temperament test.  Please read the following information prior to scheduling our exam.  Remember:  A certified therapy dog with Therapy Dogs United is only authorized to visit the general public through an approved TDU program or service.  We do not certify therapy dogs for an individual's private use or medical needs.

Part One: Therapy Dog Obedience

We use the nationally-recognized AKC Canine Good Citizen test (commonly referred to as the CGC) as our obedience testing standard. This test is administered by a Certified AKC CGC Evaluator. Every dog is required to pass the CGC before they can work in our programs.  According to the AKC, your dog is eligible to take the CGC evaluation at any age, however, if your dog receives his/her CGC Certificate prior to turning one year old (12 months of age) you MUST retake the CGC exam as part of TDU's therapy dog certification process.  If your dog received a CGC Passing grade from a Certified CGC Evaluator who is not working directly through TDU, we reserve the right to retest your dog as part of our therapy dog certification process.  If it has been longer than 24 months since your dog was certified with the CGC, you will be required to retake and pass the CGC prior to your Therapy Dog evaluation.  Therapy Dogs United is not a breed-specific certifying organization, meaning we welcome all dog breeds except wolf or wolf-hybrid.

There is a non-refundable $15 fee to take the CGC Evaluation with us (Erie chapter).  Your CGC evaluation fee is made payable directly to your CGC Evaluator.  To schedule your testing time, call Hannah Ernst at (814) 547-8091.

To learn more about the AKC Canine Good Citizen test requirements, visit the AKC online at:

Part Two: Therapy Dog Temperament

After your dog successfully passes the Canine Good Citizen test - your dog must also pass the TDU Therapy Dog (TD) Evaluation. This test ensures that your dog is able to remain calm in difficult, distractive and stressful situations, and work in a group with other dogs. You can expect your dog to be exposed to a variety of distractions (often referred to as 'sights and sounds') that a canine volunteer would find 'out in the field.' Some of those distractions include a wheelchair, walker, wheelchair alarm, medical equipment, multiple children, and other dogs.

Ready to become a certified therapy dog team?  ERIE REGION:  To schedule your dog for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and Therapy Dog (TD) Evaluation, Email us at:  Our Erie therapy dog testing schedule runs from September thru May.  Please note:  Dogs are evaluated for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test ONLY at our annual Paws in the Park event.  We do not offer the Therapy Dog (TD) evaluation at Paws in the Park.  To pre-register for the Paws in the Park CGC testing, click here.

To certify your dog in the PITTSBURGH REGION:  Email Michele Shepler at or call (412) 371-8021.

Part Three: The Volunteer Handler

Every person certified as a Volunteer Handler with Therapy Dogs United is required to file for a Pennsylvania Child Abuse Background check.  Depending on where you visit, may be required to undergo a Criminal Background Check as well. 

When making visits or attending events as a representative of this organization, Therapy Dogs United allows only one certified therapy dog volunteer handler per certified therapy dog, no exceptions.  Therapy Dogs United reserves the right to revoke you and your dog's membership into our organization at any time for just cause or violation of our Rules, Regulations, Policies & Procedures (see TDU Membership Guide).  Furthermore, our Regulations state that no volunteer or potential volunteer shall join our organization with the intent to use a certified therapy dog private use, meanng the volunteer handlers' personal or medical needs.  A therapy dog certified by Therapy Dogs United is certified as such for the benefit at the general public at large, not private use.  

Our Regulations further prohibit any volunteer handler from volunteering with TDI (Therapy Dogs International) while serving as an active volunteer with Therapy Dogs United.  Volunteers and certified therapy dogs are, however, exempt from this restriction provided you additionally volunteer with a national/international organization that provides crisis response or search and rescue services.  During your tenure as a  volunteer handler, we may require that any volunteer or certified therapy dog (individually or together) participate in additional training sessions once you and your dog become registered as a certified therapy dog team with Therapy Dogs United, Inc.  We also reserve the right to re-evaluate any previously certified therapy dog for just cause.

         Newly certified TDU members (Erie Chapter) are required to attend a New Volunteer orientation within two weeks of certification. Failure to do so could result in removal from our organization.  As a new volunteer, you are encouraged to participate in our mentoring program, which matches up a new volunteer with an experienced volunteer for at least 3 months. New volunteers will make their first scheduled visit with a TDU volunteer.  You are required to make no less than 8 (eight) scheduled visits annually with Therapy Dogs United to be considered an active volunteer in good standing. Once you provide proof of your 8 visits, you are eligible to trade in your dog’s neck scarf ($20 nonrefundable fee) for an official embroidered blue therapy dog vest. There is a $65 nonrefundable fee for your vest. If you leave our organization for any reason, or your dog passes on, you are required to return your neck scarf or vest to our agency within 15 days to avoid legal action.

What if My Dog Doesn't Pass?

Not all dogs, even the most obedient and even-tempered dogs, pass the Canine Good Citizen test and the Therapy Dog Evaluation. In fact, more than half of the dogs tested do not pass both requirements the first time. There is no limit as to the number of times a potential therapy dog can be tested for either the CGC or TDU Therapy Dog (TD) Evaluation. There is no waiting period in-between testing should your dog fail to pass one or both evaluations. It is not required that both evaluations be taken on the same day. A dog, however, must pass both the CGC and the TDU Therapy Dog (TD) Evaluation to be certified as a therapy dog within our organization.

Does My Dog Qualify?

Therapy Dogs United requires that any therapy dog candidate be at least one year old.  Unfortunately, newly adopted dogs are unable to take the Therapy Dog portion (TD) of our exam.  You are required to prove ownership of your dog showing 6 months or longer before you are eligible to schedule your Therapy Dog (TD) exam.  We also require that your dog has a current rabies vaccination and current dog license, and your dog is free of ticks and fleas. Some of our Member Agencies may require a bi-annual fecal check or that your dog is not on a raw meat diet.

We also require that all dogs pass both the CGC and TD evaluation on a slip, flat buckle or Martingale collar or a standard body harness with the leash attaching to ring on the dog's back (no jump harness or pull harness is permitted).  Our acceptable equipment requirements are the same as the AKC's CGC candidate requirements. 

Use of a Service Dog as a Therapy Dog

If you require assistance by a Service Dog, we are unable to certify your Service Dog as a TDU certified therapy dog (dual purpose).  We do not allow Service Dogs to work in our programs while assisting the handler's individual needs.  A certified therapy dog is not a service dog, therefore, neither the dog nor the handler has the same rights as a service dog team.  Therapy dogs are not recognized by the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) and do not have public access rights.

Verification of a Personal Therapy Dog for Housing or Rental Applications

A therapy dog certified with Therapy Dogs United is certified for the good of the public at large not the private use of an individual either with, or without, a disability.  We do not certify our therapy dogs for an individual's personal/private use (example: companion therapy dog in a private home, anxiety therapy dog in a private home, psychiatric therapy dog in a private home, etc.)  If your housing status requires certification that your dog is certified as a therapy dog for your personal/private use and/or needs, please do not contact our office for such certification.   We are not only unable to provide said verification, but the request does not reflect TDU's policies, procedures or mission.

Can My Dog Earn the Official AKC Therapy Dog Title Through Therapy Dogs United?

Yes ~ provided you are an eligible therapy dog volunteer!  In June of 2011, TDU was approved as a Therapy Dog Certification agency through American Kennel Club.  Being recognized by the AKC means that we are able to verify the eligibility requirements of any therapy dog certified through our organization for the official AKC Therapy Dog Title.  

Eligibility Requirements for the AKC Therapy Dog Title

To earn the AKC Therapy Dog title, you and your dog must meet the following criteria: 

  1. Perform a minimum of 50 visits with Therapy Dogs United, Inc.
  2. The dog must be registered or listed with AKC.

All dogs are eligible to earn the AKC Therapy Dog title, including purebreds and mixed breeds. To earn the AKC Therapy Dog title, dogs must be registered or listed with AKC and have a number in order to earn a title.  For more information on the AKC Therapy Dog Title, please visit

To learn more about our therapy dog test requirements, or to schedule your dog for testing, please call (814) 456-DOGS or Email our office at

Can I Volunteer with TDU Even Without a Dog?

Yes!  We have a need for volunteers with - and without - a certified therapy dog.  We welcome the opportunity to meet you!  Please feel free to return our Volunteer Application.

If you have questions or concerns and would like to personally observe one of our therapy dog evaluations, call (814) 456-DOGS and ask for more information.

We believe dog training and education is not only a life-long commitment, but an ongoing process. Our therapy dog teams have a solid foundation in obedience and a paw-sitive working relationship with their volunteer handler! Our dogs and humans engage in a mutual partnership through training, socialization, trust and respect.