Any dog can train as a therapy dog, but some breeds are naturally calm, intelligent and up to the task of lending a helping paw.
Many scientific studies how shown how good pets are for people. They help reduce stress and anxiety and provide calm reassurance when we feel overwhelmed. According to the Washington-based Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), almost three quarters (74%) of owners agree that pet ownership has improved their mental health.
Dogs in particular help to reduce feelings of loneliness and encourage their owners to get regular exercise and social contact. Further research collated by HABRI, shows that pets are particularly beneficial for children and young adults, as they teach responsibility and empathy and offer non-judgemental support. Dogs aren’t called ‘man’s best friend’ for nothing!
While any pet can help any person, official therapy dogs have had special training to help them offer support and comfort to people in hospital, nursing homes, schools or hospices. They’re required to be sociable, gentle, friendly and reliable so that they can do a great job. We’ve listed 13 of the best therapy dog breeds below.
PetsRadar’s guide to the best therapy dog breeds
1. Labrador Retriever
Originally used as gun dogs for picking up game, Labrador Retrievers are bright, friendly, sociable dogs who love a job to do. They’re easy to train and normally love people. Their calm temperament means they’re happy sitting still for long periods, but they do love a lively game or two when they’re allowed.
Their large size makes them particularly suitable for some types of therapy such as leading people through certain situations.
2. Golden Retriever
Another gun dog breed, Golden Retrievers are normally gorgeous, goofy clowns who love nothing more than people and cuddles. (And food!) Although they’re big dogs, they’re respectful of the vulnerable and their big, soppy grins make them look friendly and approachable.
Believe it or not, Poodles were originally gun dogs too! They were originally a German breed, bred to retrieve for duck hunters, and their dense coat is waterproof. They’re affectionate, intelligent dogs and don’t shed, so they can safely interact with people with allergies.
4. Bichon Frise
It’s easy to see why the cute little furry Bichon Frise is so popular as a therapy dog. They’re very sociable and love everyone, don’t shed much and are playful without being crazy. Their long coats are very tactile to stoke, as well.
5. Cavalier King Charles
According to the American Kennel Club, the Cavalier’s all-round beauty, regal grace and even temper ’mark him as one of dogdom’s noblemen’, and we couldn’t agree more! Great with small children, Cavaliers love people, and don’t keep their love to themselves!
Dachshunds may look cutely comical, but that long, low body and short legs hide a huge heart. Originally bred as badger hunting dogs in Germany, they’re naturally curious and affectionate which makes them great companions.
7. Yorkshire Terrier
Yorkies consistently make the annual top ten breeds list of the American Kennel Club, and they’re popular for a reason. They pack a big personality into a tiny body, and the world’s first therapy dog is thought to be a Yorkie named Smoky who visited wounded soldiers in hospital in World War II.
Thought to be one of the world’s oldest dog breeds, Maltese look like plush toys with their long coats and melting eyes. They’re trainable, adaptable and affectionate making them a great choice as therapy dogs.
9. Border Collie
Border Collies are one of those breeds who can turn their paw to most things. They’re very smart and thrive on attention. They love to be praised and most get bored if left on their own too long, so most will love the focus of being therapy dogs.
Pugs know all about being great friends to humans – they’ve been doing it for thousands of years, since 400BC when they were companions to Chinese emperors.
They have very expressive features which owners say can mimic human emotions. Their history as lapdogs means they can stand being cuddled pretty much all day, and they’re gentle with the young or elderly.
If fluff is your thing, then look no further than the Pomeranian. With an alert, foxy face and a joyful personality, Poms know just how to cheer people up. They’re curious and love exploring new situations and although lively can be exercised with short walks or indoor play. They’re quite at home in urban situations or with spending a lot of time indoors.
12. German Shepherds
If you need a larger breed of dog to provide more physical support, then German Shepherds must be near the top of the list. They’re bright, trainable and loyal, which is why they’re a top pick for many organizations such as the police and homeland security.
13. Shih Tzu
Their name may mean ‘little lion’, but there’s nothing fierce about these little charmers. Bred in China hundreds of years ago as companions, they’re happy living a mostly indoor life so are perfect if you lack much outdoor space.
Their idea of heaven is to sit on someone’s lap all day, so they’re welcome visitors to indoor spaces where residents aren’t very mobile. They’re outgoing, endlessly cheerful and love pretty much everyone.
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Sara is a freelance journalist and copywriter of many years’ experience with a lifelong love of animals. She’s written for a range of magazines and websites on subjects varying from pet care to travel. A horse rider since the age of five, she’s currently a full time pet slave to horse Blue and gorgeous, goofy English Springer Spaniel Olly. Adorable Olly has a huge sense of adventure and no sense of direction, keeping Sara on her toes.