As an AKC CGC Evaluator, I get a lot of emails asking about testing dogs as a first pass to a Therapy Dog certification, when they really mean Service Dog. I thought I’d take the opportunity to note the differences.
The AKC Canine Good Citizen test was created to promote responsible dog ownership by encouraging dog owners to train their dog to have good doggy manners in public. Therapy Dog and Service Dog organizations began using this test as a first pass because if a dog failed there really wasn’t a reason to administer a more difficult test. Getting a CGC certificate or title is usually the first formal achievement a dog owner gets with their dog and can lead to an ongoing interest in training, whether for competing or therapy or other dog activities.
Therapy Dogs or dogs used for Animal Assisted Therapy (this broad definition includes birds, cats, horses, etc.) are in programs that visit hospitals, retirement homes, libraries and schools to provide comfort to the humans in those facilities. They are also used in disaster recovery areas for the same purpose. Dog owners who would like to participate in these activities should contact local facilities and ask if they have a Therapy Dog program and if so, which group coordinates activities. Since people in hospitals are already fragile and have special needs, Therapy Dog groups have strict protocols including dog behavior testing, veterinary health testing and human health testing. Most programs mandate at least attending an orientation, if not taking actual classes, and have a minimum number of hours a dog/handler team must donate per month. The AKC also has a Therapy Dog Title, which you can read about here: http://www.akc.org/akctherapydog/earn_title.cfm
In the U.S. the terms Service Dog and Assistance Dog are the same thing, but in other parts of the world there is a difference. Service Dogs generally refers to dogs giving service to a blind or deaf person. Assistance Dogs is a term used for dogs trained for other types of service, such as medical alerts and helping people walk. Service and Assistance Dogs are given access rights to areas where pet dogs are not, such as planes and trains and grocery stores. Thousands of hours go into training service dogs, first with foundation training and then with special training designed for the handler that will be living with the dog. Claiming a dog is a Service Dog when it is a household pet is illegal.
Dog trainers are often put in situations where they are asked to help train a pet dog to bypass access laws. Some of these include moving into an apartment that normally doesn’t allow pets, but must allow Service Dogs. This puts everyone in a very uncomfortable situation and can undermine the public concept of real Service Dogs.