While all canines can provide humans with comfort and cuddles, certain breeds make better therapy dogs than others.
American Kennel Club (AKC) Family Dog Director Dr. Mary Burch stresses the importance of distinguishing between therapy dogs and service dogs.
She told Newsweek: “Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to assist a person with a disability. Therapy dogs volunteer with their owners to provide comfort and support to people in settings such as schools, hospitals, assisted living, etc.
“Most often, they provide comfort and support in a setting such as assisted living or hospitals, where a lonely person would appreciate a visit from a dog. Therapy dog certification ensures that both dogs and handlers are well-trained, and it reduces the liability to facilities.
“Therapy dog training begins with basic good manners such as having the dog pass the Canine Good Citizen test. Next, the dog skills related to the therapy setting (go say hello, leave it, paws up) and is given the therapy organization’s therapy-specific test.”
She said all approximately 200 AKC breeds can be therapy dogs depending on the temperament of the individual dog and matching the dog to the right setting.
Dr. Burch said: “A small, quiet dog such as a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel might be the perfect dog for visiting a hospital—it could be placed on a cover on the bed and comfort the hospitalized patient. Patients report less pain when they are stroking a dog.
“A larger, more active dog could be a suitable therapy dog in a residential setting for teenage boys. This dog would not be on a bed—it might be outside chasing a frisbee and returning it to a teenager who is enjoying the game.”
Animals other than dogs can be effective for therapeutic reasons, said Dr. Burch, an AKC certified applied animal behaviorist.
She said: “A variety of other animals have been used in animal-assisted therapy work. Some of these include cats, birds, and miniature horses. Horses often visit outside in fenced yards or gardens. Birds are taught to wear a harness and leash while visiting an animal-assisted therapy setting.”
Larger Therapy Dog Breeds
The Golden Retriever is a medium-large gun dog that was bred to retrieve shot waterfowl.
The AKC describes this breed as “affectionate, very trainable, good around children and other dogs—such as other therapy dogs that may be visiting—friendly, [with] a soft coat for petting.”
Developed from Canadian fishing dogs, the Labrador Retriever or Labrador is one of the world’s most popular dog breeds.
The AKC considers these dogs to be “very trainable, affectionate, friendly and happy to meet strangers, kindly, outgoing [and] playful.”
Originally bred as hunting dogs to chase game, these sleek canines can reach speeds topping 45mph, but these graceful animals are also extremely affectionate.
The AKC considers Greyhounds to be “calm, serene, friendly [and] good around children and other animals.”
These elegant and noble dogs are perhaps most famous for their very dense and curly coats.
The American Kennel Club rates this breed to be “good around other dogs, open to meeting strangers, very intelligent and trainable.”
This large, strong and hardworking breed was originally used as a working dog to pull nets for fishermen. Dr. Burch said Newfoundlands these days make excellent therapy dogs, describing the breed as “affectionate, a great coat for petting in a therapy setting, good around other dogs, calm, good with children, open to meeting strangers, [with a] ‘sweetness of temperament.'”
However, she added: “The downside with Newfs is that they drool. Therapy dog handlers usually carry a towel with them.”
German Shepherds are considered extremely intelligent and easy to train, which is why they often work effectively alongside the police.
This gentle breed’s significant size also makes them ideal therapy dogs in certain situations, for example, working as the type of therapy dog needed to escort a patient through physical activities.
This dog breed was developed to gather and control flocks of sheep, meaning they possess almost unlimited reserves of energy, stamina and drive.
Collies are not only intelligent and people-pleasers, they adore human company and will form enduring bonds with anyone they spend significant time with.
This affable breed of working dog has a recognized hunting ability, intelligence and kind nature.
Lurchers are often very calm and well-behaved—even around new people—and are both intuitive and easily trained.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier of today has shaken off its association with fighting and the breed is now considered a fine companion, known for its courage, intelligence and love of children.
Staffies therefore unsurprisingly make great therapy dogs due to their affectionate, faithful and playful natures.
These adorable dogs created by crossing the Labrador Retriever and the Standard, Miniature, or Toy poodle have quickly become one of the most sought-after breeds.
Their distinctly warm, loving and loyal personality makes them ideal therapy dogs for people with autism, physical disabilities, depression and numerous other issues.
Smaller Therapy Dog Breeds
The small, compact and hardy Beagle dog breed is an excellent friend for children, adults and those requiring a caring companion.
Kennel Club experts describe the canines as “friendly, playful, good with children, good around other dogs [and] affectionate.”
The toy-like Bichon Frise is a cute and perpetually cheerful pet with a love of mischief-making and a lot of love to give.
The AKC notes this breed is “affectionate, good with children, good with other dogs, [with a] soft coat for petting, happy to meet strangers, gentle-mannered, playful [and] cheerful.”
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Although these dogs retain the sporty nature of their spaniel ancestors, the Cavalier King Charles is born to be a companion.
Dr. Burch tells Newsweek these spaniels are “sweet, quiet, affectionate, good with children, good around other dogs, can be a little bit shy but if well-socialized [they are] happy to meet strangers.”
The French Bulldog has enjoyed a long history as a companion dog whose sole focus is on being a fabulous family friend.
The AKC writes these miniature Bulldogs are “affectionate, good with other dogs, good with children, happy to meet strangers, funny and playful, adaptable [and] even disposition.”
Although the name “Shih Tzu” means little lion, there is absolutely nothing intimidating about this lovely and friendly dog breed.
The American Kennel Club recognizes Shih Tzus as excellent therapy dog candidates, noting how they are “affectionate, good with children, good around other dogs [and] happy and outgoing.”
Pomeranians not only have perfect proportions for cozying up on a patient’s lap the dog breed is also packed with personality.
These petite canines are in addition intelligent and obedient, allowing them to fit into the occasionally difficult situations demanded of therapy dogs.
The Pug is a part of the AKC’s “toy” group and is widely considered the clown of the canine world due to its excellent sense of humor and desire to show off for its human masters.
The breed is more than content to spend long periods in the lap of a patient requiring their love, while their level of intuition is also a source of support.
While Dachshunds are scent hounds originally bred to hunt tunneling animals, their versatility these days makes these delightful dogs superb family companions.
They are intelligent, social and eager to please people and although they tend to be barkers, this issue can be easily addressed with training.
Yorkies are excellent therapy dogs as they are highly intuitive, meaning the breed will go above and beyond to provide people with what they need and will raise the alarm when something feels wrong.
The dogs’ petite frame also means these dogs are easy to look after and the trainable and entertaining terriers can feel content even in cramped conditions.
Corgis are a small dog breed with enough brains to speedily understand what is required of them in a therapy situation.
This most regal of dog breeds—favored by Queen Elizabeth II who has reportedly owned over 30 during her reign—Corgis adore being touched and petted, and are often overjoyed at being the center of attention.