Therapy dogs have really burst onto the scene in the last few years.
Traditionally, people would mainly see therapy dogs assisting the blind, but there are several more uses for them these days.
This best therapy dog breeds list contains the most popular therapy dogs that come in different shapes and sizes, and bred and trained for different purposes.
Dogs provide constant love and companionship free of judgement.
For many, this is enough, but some people need their pup to do just a little bit more.
In fact, there are a variety of reasons that someone may enlist the help of a therapy dog, and some of them may really surprise you!
What breeds make good therapy dogs, and why?
There is more to making a great therapy dog than breed alone.
In fact, many therapy and service dogs are Heinz 57's (mutts) that have been rescued from shelters.
According to Americans with Disabilities Act (PDF), therapy dogs are not service dogs or assistance dogs in most organizations.
However, some places worldwide can credit them as such anyway.
In the US, therapy dogs are never considered service animals and are not granted the same privileges, according to ADATA.
To get a dog certified as a therapy dog, your canine will need to pass a certification. This depends on what country you're in.
In the United States, your dog must get AKC's Canine Good Citizen certification (a program established in 1989).
Dogs that are trained to be therapy dogs must master obedience training, social training, and pack leader training before they even begin to learn the specific duties they will need to perform for their person.
Any canine that is skittish, aggressive, fearful, willful, or stubborn will not make the cut.
You can be sure that if you received your dog from a reputable agency, that no matter the breed, there is no need to worry about your new companion not being up to the physical or social activities that you enjoy.
The American Kennel Club offers a list of organized therapy dog groups on their website, and you can reach out to one in your area if you're interested in finding a reputable breeder.
The Best Dog Breeds for Therapy Dogs
Reasons for Having a Therapy Dog
As previously mentioned, therapy dogs have been used for may years to assist the blind.
Even with the newer uses of therapy dogs, people still use pooches in the traditional role – as a seeing-eye dog.
They can alert the handler if traffic is approaching too closely, lead them through doorways and divert them around obstacles.
The best therapy dog breeds can also be used to assist the deaf.
With the new training, a dog has many jobs that it can do assisting those that are hard of hearing, including bringing a ringing phone to its owner, alerting the owner when someone knocks on the door, and alerting the owner of the smoke alarm (or any alarm) goes off.
People with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and schizophrenia can now enjoy the benefits of having a therapy dog as well.
For example, if the owner is having night terrors the dog can wake them. These types of therapy dogs can even be trained to move hands away from a person practicing self-harm (such as slapping).
Not to mention, a trained therapy dog is one of the best shoulders to cry on.
Humans with seizures or blood sugar disorders can also benefit from the help of a well-trained service dog.
While there is debate on whether a canine can actually detect a seizure, the other benefits they provide are not debatable.
These benefits include:
- bringing medication and bottled water when symptoms start
- pressing the owner’s life alert button when symptoms present
- alerting the owner of chemical changes they can smell, such as low blood sugar
Many schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and even offices have programs where therapy dogs come in just to improve morale and calm people down.
The best therapy dog breeds list has some of the popular therapy dogs that can make their rounds to calm students with severe testing anxiety, bring smiles to bed-bound patients in nursing homes or hospitals or provide a bit of boredom relief to children waiting on medical testing.
The Difference Between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs
While we mentioned both service dogs and therapy dogs, the two technically serve distinct purposes, have different training, and have different legal accommodations.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities can take service dogs with them.
Still, it does not apply to emotional support dogs or therapy dogs. Some businesses may impose extra restrictions on them.
In addition to the legal allowances for where different types of support dogs can go, the other major difference between service and therapy dogs is their training.
Service dogs undergo rigorous training so they can complete a specific task that their human needs.
Nearly all of the above reasons that we mentioned for having a support dog fall into the category of service dogs, assuming the dog has the proper training.
The last section, about the therapy dogs in schools, hospitals, and other places, is the exception.
You can think of it this way – service dogs serve a specific medical purpose and are sometimes legally considered medical equipment.
Importantly, that purpose does not need to be obvious.
Service dogs can be guide dogs, help humans with diabetes spot low sugar levels, or prevent people with PTSD from having flare-ups.
Where Do Emotional Support Dogs Fit In?
Legally, emotional support dogs are closer to therapy dogs than service dogs, but there are still some important differences.
Emotional support dogs provide support for a specific individual, while therapy dogs tend to help many people.
Most of the dogs that are good therapy dogs are also great as emotional support dogs.
There is also a lot of overlap with breeds good as service dogs, although most people still think of service dogs as only a handful of breeds.
Types of Therapy Dogs
There are two main categories of therapy dogs that a pup can fit into. Some dogs may even serve both purposes.
Therapeutic visitation dogs are usually someone’s pet that has been trained and certified as a companion to nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and other places to socialize with patients or students and provide a calming effect.
Animal-assisted therapy dogs typically spend their time in a specific institution.
They commonly go beyond providing just emotional support.
They will also complete simple tasks, such as helping patients walk or do other activities.
Overall, interacting with therapy dogs can help people:
- Help develop social skills
- Improve participation in therapy
- Have a better mood
- Improve comfort levels
- Reduce depression and anxiety
What Are Some Traits of a Good Therapy Dog?
As you look through our list of best dog breeds for therapy dogs, you will notice that many of them share some similar traits.
Some characteristics make a dog more likely to do well as a therapy dog than others.
Since personality, energy levels, and overall characteristics are commonly related to breeds, some breeds tend to do better at this than others.
However, nearly any dog breed can become a therapy dog as long as the dog has the following personality traits:
- Calm – Therapy dogs can have higher energy levels, but only if they know how to save that energy for non-therapeutic times. Therapy dogs need to be able to sit and stay calm for a long time.
- Clean – A good therapy dog will be clean since they commonly go into areas with vulnerable populations, like nursing homes. This means that you will have to keep them well-groomed. It also means the best choices shed and drool less.
- Focused – Therapy dogs frequently have to work in loud environments with a lot of distractions. Because of this, it can be hard to focus on the patient, but therapy dogs need to be able to do that.
- Gentle – Gentleness somewhat goes hand-in-hand with calmness. Essentially, dogs need to be aware of what is too much for the average person. They need to be aware of their strength and know not to use it all. This is especially important for bigger breeds.
- Highly Trained – Among the most important traits of a therapy dog is being well-trained. They need to listen when called to sit or stay. Overall, they need to be controllable in varying situations. It helps if they can also complete basic tasks or help people with those tasks. As a bonus, trained dogs tend to learn new commands quickly.
- Intelligent – Therapy dogs have to be smart for several reasons. This helps with training and allows them to tell if someone they are helping would rather play or be calm. Essentially, intelligence helps them adapt to changing situations.
- Sociable – It should go without saying that the ideal therapy dog will be sociable. They will spend time with a lot of people and need to make new friends quickly.
Touchable – Therapy dogs should be fine with people touching them nearly anywhere.
The best therapy dogs love being touched or pet, no matter where.
Patients cannot be afraid of touching the dog.
The 25 Best Therapy Dog Breeds List
Every dog is not capable of the discipline and work needed to become a therapy dog.
In fact, there are certain therapy dogs breeds that you will see over and over in this field.
Now that we have learned some of the amazing things therapy dogs can do, let’s find out which breeds are up to the task.
Here's a full best therapy dog breeds list with the most popular therapy dogs ranked.
Small Therapy Dogs Breeds
Portable and friendly, this much-loved scent hound makes a great therapy dog.
Especially in situations where the best smeller wins, such as for blood sugar detection.
Great with kids, this is an excellent service dog for large households, or therapy dog for children’s hospitals.
Beagles are independent though, and some won’t accept training well enough to make the cut.
Of course, if you need one to fetch large items, this tiny pooch won’t be up to the job.
Easy to groom and bathe, this dog won’t require trips a professional groomer.
Chihuahua’s are usually friendly and confident.
These fur-babies love people.
They can be loud or destructive if left alone for too long.
3. Bichon Frise
A companion breed, dogs in this class do not shed.
This makes them great for therapy dogs – no hair left behind in restaurants, stores, hospitals, or homes.
These pups are happy, cheerful, and playful.
They are sure to bring a smile to everyone they meet.
These pooches are not always good around kids and other pets.
They need to receive proper socialization training.
The Poodle actually comes in three sizes – small, medium, and large.
Their intelligence and intuitive demeanor make them ideal therapy dogs.
Intuitive and adaptive, dogs in this breed can act predictably and appropriately in any situation.
The Poodle has a long coat that will need regular clipping and grooming.
They are also prone to weight gain.
5. Yorkshire Terrier
They love to be needed, so are great for getting medications in an emergency, or pushing that alert button.
These small dogs are great as therapy dogs for hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
Their size makes them very easy to handle.
Yorkies can be strong-willed and aggressive.
They need a strong trainer that trains in social skills and obedience.
6. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Hey, if they are good enough for The Queen, they are good enough for me.
With intelligence and friendliness, these dogs have what it takes to be service and therapy dogs.
These canines are energetic, so if they need to serve were they will be exercised and kept busy.
The best thing about this dog, in my opinion, is that they are not destructive.
They also need a very little exercise.
To be a therapy dog, this breed needs socialization training from puppy-hood. They are often stand-offish.
8. French Bulldog
These lap dogs are absolutely great for companionship, people's mental and physical health, and are part of most popular best therapy dog breeds list.
Canines in this breed want nothing more than to be petted, loved and reassured.
Loving, playful, and adaptable, you will be hard pressed to find anything that DOESN’T make this fur-baby a great therapy dog.
Independent and stubborn, the Frenchie needs to begin training as soon as possible.
RELATED: French Bulldog Breed Profile
9. Italian Greyhound
These characteristics make them great for being a guide dog or any other therapy dog.
These sensitive dogs are alert and playful.
Great for making the rounds in institutions, these dogs are energetic.
These sleek hounds do not do well in cold temperatures.
As a sighthound, they are also quick to the chase if not properly trained.
Cute and cuddly, these pooches are ready to cheer up the sick and put a smile on everyone’s face.
These obedient canines love to please, making them easy to train.
With a sweet face and gentle disposition, the Cavalier was made for work as a therapy dog.
You must use sensitive training to keep these fur-babies from becoming fearful and timid.
Pug owners say these clowns bring a lot of entertainment into any situation.
These outgoing dogs are cheerful and curious.
They are known to be even-tempered which makes them predictable and trainable.
The facial structures of these dogs make them snort and snore most of the time.
Also, care must be taken to keep them from over-heating.
This playful breed is great at lifting spirits and encouraging exercise. They are great for people with anxiety and depression.
If you ask people one word that describes a Dachshund, many will say “spunky”.
They are lively and curious. With long spines and short legs, it is not healthy for one of these pooches to climb stairs or play jumping games.
Large Therapy Dogs Breeds
13. Saint Bernard
With a history of rescuing stranded travelers in Saint Bernard Pass, they're quite naturally good therapy dog breeds.
Like many dogs on this best therapy dog breeds list, the Saint is friendly and affectionate. These fur babies do not need a lot of exercises.
These dogs are big…huge.
They need space to stretch out.
Shedders and droolers, they require quite a bit of maintenance.
14. Airedale Terrier
They are also large enough to fetch anything their owner needs.
Rugged and tough, these pups can survive in almost any condition.
Their short hair is attractive and easy to maintain.
This breed is a dog’s dog.
They love dog activities like barking, digging, and chewing.
15. Irish Setter
This friendly breed loves being around lots of people and getting lots of attention.
Affectionate, intelligent, and easy to train, dogs in this breed make excellent therapy and service dogs.
Active and energetic, the Irish Setter does not do well living in apartments.
They need room to roam and stay busy.
16. Labrador Retriever
Traditionally hunting dogs, Labs take to training easily.
Their size and strength make them great for fetching things.
All this with a friendly attitude make this one of the top contenders on the best therapy dog breeds list.
With a desire to please, these pooches make great service dogs.
Friendly and gregarious, Labs do well with everyone.
These dogs need obedience training starting early.
They are so playful and energetic that they can accidentally hurt someone.
17. German Shepherd
They don’t get distracted easily, so they are great for intense work like guiding and listening.
Calm and restrained, these dogs have the attitude needed to be a serious work dog.
Despite this, they can also be loving and playful. German Shepherds need socialization training to avoid becoming aggressive.
These dogs can be destructive when bored.
18. Shetland Sheepdog
Beautiful and bold, the “Miniature Collie” isn’t just looks, and no brain. One of the smartest dogs in the world, these dogs make excellent therapy dogs.
These friendly dogs are healthy and devoted.
They are usually loving to everyone they meet.
The long, luxurious coat on these pooches get easily matted. They require extensive brushing and grooming.
This breeding gives them everything they need to perform tasks for disabled owners.
Friendly and calm, the Greyhound is great around children and other animals.
Although they are calm in attitude, they still have energy to work overtime. These fur-babies are jumpers.
Make sure you have a high fence in the areas where they are not on a leash.
This stigmatized breed is usually not thought of as a therapy dogs, but its use as police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and guide dogs show that it is.
Calm, loyal, and brave are the qualities in these large dogs.
They are friendly and gentle unless trained to be otherwise.
These dogs are massive.
They need obedience training and socialization training starting as early as possible.
21. Golden Retriever
Everything a canine on the best therapy dog breeds list should be.
Of course, they are also intelligent and easy to train.
These popular dogs are loving and willing to please.
With devotion and kindness, they make great service dogs.
Traditional hunting breeds like these need room to roam and ways to work off their excess energy.
These gentle giants have what it takes to be a volunteer.
Patient and kind, their physical and emotional strength make them great servers in the community.
This working breed still loves to work and is happy doing whatever you need.
They are easy to groom and shed little. Reserved with strangers, trainers need to start socialization early to avoid aggression.
This large dog has a tendency to overeat.
With endurance to spare, they are up to busy days working with their human.
Athletic and cheerful, this is one dog that is ready for work as a therapy or service dog.
While you often see these dogs in public areas, they can become aggressive and will need socialization training.
24. Border Collie
Those traits along with friendliness, and a readiness to learn, make them shine as therapy dogs as well.
Intelligent and easy to train, this dog does exceptionally well in working roles.
They are great for first-time owners and trainers.
These canines love people so much that they get depressed if left alone too much.
Like many breeds, they need training to like other dogs.
These fur babies are great for medical service work. They can sniff out chemical changes in the body of their person.
Dogs in this breed are sweet and mild-mannered. They do great in situations where they are around crowds and strangers.
Bloodhounds are a little lazy.
They don’t have much energy and are prone to weight gain.
The following breeds didn’t quite make our list but still make excellent therapy dogs:
- Miniature Poodle
- Irish Wolfhound
- American Staffordshire Terrier
Breeds to Reconsider As Therapy Dogs
Just like some breeds do better at being therapy dogs than others, some are worse than others.
You typically want to stay away from overly loyal and protective breeds, like Shar-Peis.
You also frequently don’t want to try training an independent breed that is rare to show affection to be a therapy dog.
Examples of this include the Pekingese, Kerry blue terrier, and Shiba Inu.
Common Questions About the Best Therapy Dog Breeds
Even with all the information above, you may still have some questions about therapy dog breeds and which pups are most likely to make great support dogs.
A lot of the following information overlaps with topics we already covered, but it’s organized more concisely to make it easier to absorb.
What breeds make the best emotional support dogs?
Any breed on our list could be a great emotional support dog.
Some of the best choices include beagles, Labrador retrievers, corgis, pugs, Pomeranians, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, and Yorkshire terriers.
What breed of dog is best for anxiety and depression?
Most of the dogs listed above as potential therapy dogs do well to support people with anxiety and depression.
Some of the best choices include French bulldogs, dachshunds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, greyhounds, Yorkies, Saint Bernard, and Cocker Spaniels.
What dogs are used as therapy dogs?
Nearly any breed can be a therapy dog, as long as the pooch has the proper training and personality.
That said, some of the most popular options include English springer spaniels, mini dachshunds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Yorkshire terriers, Bichon Frises, lurchers, and Staffordshire bull terriers.
What is the best dog for a disabled person?
Labrador retrievers are the dog breed most commonly trained to help people with disabilities. German Shepherds, golden retrievers, standard poodles, and Pomeranians also make great service dogs with the proper training.
What is the No. 1 dog breed?
The most popular dog breed is the Labrador retriever. Other popular choices include French bulldogs, golden retrievers, and German Shepherds.