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6 steps to adding a therapy dog to your organization

The benefits are clear, but where to start? Learn how to find, fund and implement a therapy dog program, and download a fillable caretaking schedule

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Are you considering adding a therapy dog to your organization? Check out this step-by-step process and get started.

Photo/Charlotte Fire Department

There’s a reason they say that “dogs are a (hu)man’s best friend.” Dogs are natural human companions. In a worldwide study of four million people, dog ownership was found to reduce the risk of dying early by 24%.

Interaction with dogs was also found to lower the stress hormone cortisol. Higher cortisol levels are associated with high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, diabetes, immune suppression and more.

First responders are at risk of high cortisol levels due to the nature of their jobs, which involve high-pressure situations that center on life and death. Knowing this, many public safety agencies around the country are implementing immersive therapy dog programs at their organizations to help responders cope with and overcome post-traumatic stress.

But how does the process for creating a therapy dog program work? Check out the six steps below for guidance and download a fillable caretaking schedule for your new public safety pup at the end of the article.

6 steps to welcoming a therapy dog to your agency

Step 1: Determine the need. First, consider whether a therapy dog would be a good fit for your workplace and the needs of your staff. You may want to conduct a needs assessment or survey to determine interest and potential benefits. Some possible questions include:

  • Are you comfortable with the idea of a dog in the workplace?
  • Do you have any medical concerns, like allergies, that would prevent you from being around a dog?
  • Are you willing to contribute to the dog’s care?
  • Do you support the inclusion of a therapy dog at our agency?

Once the data is compiled, a decision can be made as to whether a therapy dog will benefit your members.

Step 2: Research your options. Once the need has been identified, research different options for obtaining a therapy dog. Consider working with a reputable therapy dog organization or trainer, or partnering with a local animal shelter or rescue organization. As therapy dogs don’t need to be able to support people with disabilities, like service dogs, any dog can become a therapy dog, if it displays the right temperament.

Step 3. Identify funding sources. The cost of acquiring and training a therapy dog can vary widely, so you should identify potential sources of funding. This may include grants, donations or fundraising efforts, such as crowd-sourcing the community.

Step 4. Select and train the dog. Once a therapy dog has been identified, your organization will need to ensure that the dog is properly trained and socialized to work with first responders. This may involve working with a professional trainer or attending a therapy dog training program. You can find list of therapy dog trainers by state here.

Step 5. Develop policies and procedures. Your organization should develop clear policies and procedures for incorporating the therapy dog into the workplace. This may include guidelines for handling the dog, scheduling visits, and ensuring the safety of staff and patients.

Step 6. Implement and evaluate. Finally, your organization should implement the therapy dog program and regularly evaluate its effectiveness. This may involve collecting feedback from staff and tracking outcomes such as stress reduction, job satisfaction and improved communication. For more information on how best to implement a therapy dog station at your organization, check out this Lexipol on-demand webinar, “Getting Started with First Responder Therapy Dogs”.

What else do you need?

When you adopt a therapy dog, you are welcoming a new member to your public safety organization. However, Fido will need a few things to make him feel comfortable in his new home. Check out these products for your therapy dog:

Making the call to add a therapy dog program

The addition of a therapy dog will undoubtedly benefit the members of your public safety organization and give them something joyful to return to after the next inevitable difficult call. By following the above steps and fully researching your options, you can create a thriving therapy dog program that will benefit your agency for years to come.

Are you on the fence about incorporating a therapy animal into your organization? Send an email to with your questions and let us know your thoughts.

Be sure to complete the form below to download a fillable therapy dog schedule and keep your team coordinated on care tasks.

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.