Therapy Dog Growing into Adolescence


New Places Every Week:

As a puppy grows, it is critically important to continue to provide new and varied experiences every week. A puppy will learn that going places with the owner is safe, no matter how odd it may seem to the pup. Even if the pup was exposed to new experiences when young, you need to continue to provide new experiences as it gets older. You don’t want an introverted teenager!


It is also important to train the pup in basic obedience. As the pup grows, expect and gently demand more precise behaviors. If you do not have experience training, attend a local obedience training class. Many growing dogs have “relapses” and seem to forget their training, so it is important to keep up informal training even when classes are over. Consistency is the key. After a dog is about 2 years old, its personality is fairly stable and you can lighten up on training.

Most pups are able to earn an AKC CGC (click) by the time it is a year old. Many pups can pass the test by six months old, but we recommend retesting when they are a year. Before officially visiting, dogs must pass a special therapy dog behavioral test. These tests are only administered to dogs one year or older.

Pups need formal but fun training. Therapy dogs need to be happy but obedient.

They need:

    • to have fun training! If your dog likes treats, use them! Teach your pup fun tricks. YouTube has plenty of instructional videos. Kira Sundance is great. Trick training is fun for both the owner and dog. It develops a learning attitude, and strengthens the dog/person relationship.
    • learn to potty when told…an NOT on every pole or patch of grass.


Life Skills:

They need:

  • to be exposed to people and dogs of all ages and sizes
  • riding in the car…a lot!
  • various visual experiences…dogs see movement best, so you can skip the sculpture gallery, if you want.
  • to be rewarded when they are petted by strangers


Different footing, different size groups of people, lots of exercise, and meeting new doggie friends are very important to a therapy dog’s mental development and confidence.

Important therapy dog skills and handler responsibilities:

  • Dogs should learn to not approach a stranger unless given permission by the handler. However, you do not want your dog to associate approaching a person with punishment so do not be harsh with your dog. Gently control or restrain it before giving it the “go visit” release command. It is best to have your dog sit before you release it to “go visit”. Exceptions would be when strangers invite the dog by encouraging the dog to approach. It is still good to give a “go visit” command to show your approval.
  • Dogs should not sniff people as they walk by. Instead of punishment, use distraction, such as clicking your tongue, and patting your leg in addition to the command “no sniff”, “leave it,” or something similar that you choose to use.
  • Dogs should NEVER jump on a person.
  • If your dog licks or wants to put its mouth on someone, teach it a command such as “no mouth” and then also teach it the command “kiss me” when it can lick you.

When the pup listens well enough, and will sit and stay on command, if you have friends or relatives who are in nursing or rehab facilities, you might be able to gain permission to visit with your pup. You will be on your own for liability. Therapy certification organizations only approve dogs one year or older.