Therapy Dogs & Assistance Dogs – what’s the difference?

Therapy dog and child

At Ridgy Didge we often have inquiries from people who want to adopt puppies to eventually take into schools, nursing homes and retirement villages to enrich the lives of the people there. Knowing a little about the roles that puppies can grow to fulfil may help you to understand how we work to select puppies that are best suited to the needs of our adopting families. 

These types of dogs are known as ‘therapy dogs', defined as dogs trained by the owner to work in a volunteer role to benefit other people such as aged nursing home residents or children in schools. The training these dogs need is in the usual obedience training that every puppy should receive in order to be a well-socialised, well-behaved part of the family and wider community that they visit. With their low-allergenic coats, gentleness, intelligence and beautiful intuitive nature, Cobberdogs are so very well suited to this purpose of providing loving companionship, reassurance and empathetic connection. These dogs seem able to know and respond instinctively when a person needs special love, comfort or connection, and this doesn't need to be taught!  Puppies suitable for this role are calm, patient, sensitive and gentle, with a strong desire to be close and caressed, and these qualities are further enhanced by good, general behaviour training.

Some Cobberdogs may also make great 'assistance dogs' or 'service dogs', but these working dogs are defined as dogs trained professionally (over a lengthy time), to assist people with daily life by helping them to perform tasks. They may guide the blind, calm sufferers of PTSS (post-traumatic stress syndrome), alert the deaf or provide mobility assistance. They may alert a diabetic of blood sugar trouble, alert a person suffering epilepsy of impending seizure and many more specific tasks that may enhance a person's independence.  These dogs are the ones you see wearing working vests, and that have passed the Public Access Test (PAT) which establishes a minimum standard for these assistance dogs. The puppies that make great assistance dogs are those that show a strong 'prey-drive'; they show a keen desire and ability to learn, and thrive on being taught new tasks, pleasing you and being rewarded for learning new abilities.

These traits may be honed thorugh blood-line breeding, or may appear spontaneously in particular pups in a litter. 

If you have visions of helping people with your puppy as a volunteer therapy dog, there is no test you need to pass. However there is some sound training advice that will help you to achieve this vision. The most important thing to do with your new puppy before the critical age of 16 weeks, is to provide lots of early socialisation in a positive way, without overwhelming your pup. See our April blog to find out more about this early socialisation.

We also strongly recommend choosing a reputable puppy school with ongoing support, and completing all the levels with your puppy. This will stand them in good stead for being a calm, obedient and responsive little Cobberdog when working as a volunteer.

Many of our Ridgy Didge Cobberdog puppies are therapy dogs, and many are fully trained assistance dogs!  We have dogs in schools, nursing homes, family homes, and with psychologists and dentists just to mention a few, with no formal service training. Read this inspirational story here. We also have Ridgy Didge Cobberdogs working in special medical alert assistance roles and as service dogs, that have undergone extensive formal traiining to become highly qualified.  

If you would like to adopt a Ridgy Didge Australian Cobberdog, please see our Adopting a Puppy information, before you continue the adoption process. For more information, pm us on Facebook, or contact us at our website. Like and follow us on Facebook to keep up to date with ongoing puppy news and announcements.