21 Best Therapy Dog Breeds

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The history of using dogs in therapy goes back to the Second World War but it didn’t become everyday practice until the 1970s. Today, therapy dogs are used to help people overcome adversity and live a fuller life in nursing homes, hospitals, retirement homes and even disaster areas.

Most dogs can be trained to be therapy dogs, but there are still breeds that are somewhat more suitable for this. These are mostly gentle, sociable and calm breeds that make great companions. If you think we left out a breed, let us know in the comments.

1. Golden Retriever

The golden retriever is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the world and there are plenty of reasons for this. They are beautiful, majestic animals who are also incredibly clever and eager to please. They are also fantastically gentle and they always seem to know how people around them are feeling.

These are all traits that make golden retrievers among the best therapy dogs for pretty much any occasion. Their cheerful disposition makes them great for people battling depression while their gentle nature is the reason why they are often used as therapy dogs that “work” with children.

Actually, the dog which inspired Elaine Smith to start with the systematic use of dogs in therapy was a golden retriever. So, you might say that golden retrievers are the “original” therapy dogs.

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2. German Shepherd

German shepherds truly are among the most versatile of dog breeds. In fact, they might just be THE most versatile breed. There is literally nothing that they cannot do. They are amazing service dogs, they are fantastic guard dogs and, as it turns out, they make superb therapy dogs.

For one, German shepherds are incredibly intelligent and they can be trained very easily. They pick up things quickly and they will become amazing therapy dogs in no time.

They are also very loyal and there is nothing they will not do for the person they are helping. They adapt really quickly, which makes them perfect for therapy programs that involve them working with multiple people.

In short, you just cannot go wrong with a German shepherd.

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3. Pug

To some people, pugs look more like toys which have trouble breathing than dogs that can actually help people. In reality, however, there are quite a few pugs working as therapy dogs and they are incredibly successful at that.

The main reason for this is that they are funny and that they enjoy having fun. This makes them especially suitable for work with children and with people who have mood disorders. They are always up and it is almost impossible to see them bored or unhappy.

In addition to this, they are very small and they can be easily handled by the elderly, children and patients who are not mobile. The only problem with pugs is that they are not too great when temperatures are high, making them unsuitable for some therapy jobs.

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4. Staffordshire Bull Terrier

We are certain that a number of you will be shaking your head in disbelief at the mention of Staffordshire bull terriers as therapy dogs, but believe us when we tell you that this breed makes for some of the best therapy dogs around.

They are particularly useful in helping people with mood disorders, more precisely depression. Their energetic personality, combined with their playfulness makes them perfect for people who are struggling with this mood disorder. They are also incredibly good with children who respond very well to these strong and athletic dogs.

Furthermore, Staffordshire bull terriers are very low maintenance and they do not require too much grooming. Unfortunately, their need for activity may limit their therapeutic usefulness in some cases, like when the patient is of limited physical ability.

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5. Yorkshire Terrier

We have talked about the golden retriever being the first “official” therapy dog. However, the real original therapy dog was actually Smokey, a Yorkshire terrier who was brought to an injured Navy corporal during WWII. Smokey soon became the favorite of the hospital ward, helping innumerable soldiers with their recovery, lifting their moods and everything.

To this day, Yorkies are among the favorite therapy dogs around the world, thanks to a number of traits that make them so great at it. For one, they love interacting with people and they all come with their own personalities which make them more than just therapy aids.

In addition to this, their size is perfect for a therapy dog since they can be handled easily by everyone, including bedridden patients and those who are physically challenged.

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6. St. Bernard

If we were to rank therapy dogs by the sheer presence that they have, St. Bernards would definitely rank among the best. The mere sight of one of these gentle giants makes one feel calm and happy. And really, they have proven to be exquisite therapy dogs when given the chance.

One of the most pronounced characteristics of the breed is their people-pleasing personality which ensures that they will always give their all when helping in therapy. In addition to being extremely friendly towards people, they are also very loyal and will go to any length to help those in need.

One type of therapy work that St. Bernards excel at is work with children. Children simply go crazy when they meet one of these beautiful, gentle dogs.

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7. Poodle

The poodle is a breed of dog that is often underestimated due to its pop culture image and innumerable representations in the media. Although they are often seen as little more than pretty show dogs, poodles are actually extremely intelligent. In fact, they are considered to be among the smartest breeds of dog.

When you combine this intelligence with the fact that they are among the best breeds in obedience training, it becomes quite clear that poodles can do amazing work as therapy dogs. One of the therapy uses where poodles excel is helping children who might have learning difficulties.

In addition to their personality traits, poodles are also famous for being hypoallergenic, which makes them suitable for therapy work in situations where many other breeds are not.

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8. Labrador Retriever

When you take a look at the list of personality traits that Labrador retrievers possess, it becomes more than obvious that they would make amazing therapy dogs. And really, they do. They are among the most popular breeds for therapy and everyone agrees that not that many breeds can compete with them when it comes to helping people in need.

Labs are never aggressive and they have a friendly disposition even towards strangers. They are also very intelligent and extremely easy to train. Furthermore, their dedication is unmatched in the canine world. On top of all that, they are always looking for ways to please.

They can work in all types of therapy, but they have been shown to be most effective in helping people who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders.

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9. Corgi

Corgis were bred for farm work, more precisely for herding on farms and while there are still “traditional” corgis who get the job done on farms (mostly in the UK), they have become more of a pet breed, and a beloved one at that.

Thanks to their breeding, they are always even-tempered and they never lose their cool, so to say. They are also extremely obedient and they know how to get the job done, whatever the job may be. In addition, they warm up to people very quickly.

The combination of all these traits has inspired people to train them as therapy dogs and they truly excel at that as well. They have been found to be particularly well-suited for people with disabilities and the elderly who reside in nursing homes.

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10. Vizsla

The vizsla is one of the most athletic breeds of dog in the world, very active and extremely strong. They are also one of the healthiest breeds and very clean dogs. Due to their active nature, they may not be suitable for some therapy work, but they excel at other types, like, for instance, with people who suffer from mood disorders.

Another great trait that vizslas exhibit is their loving nature which makes them form very close bonds with the people they work with. Once a vizsla gets to know you, it will become your best friend and will never forget you.

It needs to be said, however, that they are not too great with small children, mostly due to the fact that they are extremely athletic and sometimes oblivious of their surroundings, especially if they get excited.

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11. Newfoundland

Newfoundlands are among the most imposing of dog breeds around, almost majestic in stature. They have historically been used for farm work, but these days they are mostly adored as great family dogs that are incredibly good with children. And really, they are mostly used for work with children as therapy dogs. They just adore children and children love them.

Despite being these huge, incredibly strong dogs, newfoundlands are actually very gentle and they can spend hours just curled up next to a person, keeping them calm and offering a very unique type of comfort.

Another trait that works for them as therapy dogs is the fact that they are very easily trained and that they adapt quickly to any situation. Also, there is no chance that you won’t feel safe next to a newfoundland.

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12. French Bulldog

If you are looking for an affectionate, petite therapy dog, you really cannot do much better than French bulldog. This is why you will quite often find these muscular but small dogs offering comfort and companionship to those who need them.

French bulldogs are among the most popular lap dogs and thanks to their small frame, they excel at therapy work with people who have limited mobility and who cannot spend time being active with their dogs. These fantastic dogs are also very calm and even-tempered, never acting out or becoming a burden.

Unlike some other breeds on our list, French bulldogs are suitable for pretty much all therapy work, from children to elderly, from patients in hospitals to residents of retirement homes.

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13. Boxer

There are breeds that make exquisite therapy dogs by simply being there, projecting a certain sense of calm and peace. Then, there are breeds that are just bursting with energy, making them great for certain types of therapy work. Boxers are a little bit of both, being “active” in help people, ensuring they are doing just what the person needs.

For instance, if a person is particularly unhappy or down, they will do everything they can to liven them up and to make them feel more upbeat. If they decide that the situation calls for quiet companionship (which can take for hours on end), they will provide exactly that.

Boxers are often used in anxiety therapy, both because they can be extremely funny and almost clown-like and because they require an active lifestyle which is often quite helpful when managing anxiety disorders.

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14. King Charles Spaniel

The King Charles spaniel is one of the first breeds of dog to be specifically bred to be companion dogs. They have provided companionship to royalty, nobility and anyone else who could afford these gorgeous dogs. Thanks to their historic role, the King Charles spaniels of today are very gentle and excellent at providing comfort and camaraderie.

These beautiful little dogs just love spending time with humans and they almost feel out of place when there is no one to keep company to. They are extremely warm to people and they know how to follow orders.

Children fall particularly in love with King Charles spaniels and a large part of the therapy work these little dogs do has to do with children. Their petite size makes them suitable for children who are in wheelchair or bed-ridden too.

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15. Old English Sheepdog

It is literally impossible not to smile when you see an old English sheepdog. Their looks are enough to make them excellent therapy dogs, with their shaggy appearance, the seemingly ever-smiling face and their incredibly fluffy coats. The way children react when they see one of these big, almost comical dogs is just a thing of beauty.

However, you would be mistaken to think that it is all about the looks with old English sheepdogs. They are also extremely loving and they are more than eager to please. They love being active and this is another reason why they make such amazing therapy dogs.

To complete the package, there is their fun-loving disposition which makes them perfect dogs for working with children. It is definitely a two-way street with old English sheepdogs and kids.

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16. Bichon Frisé

The Bichon Frisé is another breed that has been shown to be exquisite for therapy dogs and it should not come as surprise to anyone. They have been cherished as companion dogs for centuries (from the 14th century onwards to be exact) and it is only logical that they make superb therapy canines.

Bichons love nothing more than spending time with people and they are truly among the most affectionate of all the breeds. You might say that they are only truly themselves when they have a human companion that they can make happy with their cheerful disposition.

Once again, the small stature makes them perfectly suitable for bedridden patients and for people in wheelchairs. They are also extremely sociable and they can work great with groups of children, for instance.

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17. Bernese Mountain Dog

The Bernese mountain dog was bred in the Alps where it was used as a herding dog and as companion to dairymen. They also did a lot of the farm work which they excelled at thanks to their mighty stature. Today, they are mostly family dogs and many experts believe that they are among the best at that.

They are very calm dogs who never get anxious and who know how to carry themselves. They are confident and although they can take some time to mature, they are level-headed and very affectionate. They are very, very quick to form bonds with people thanks to their friendly nature and this is the main reason they are highly praised as therapy dogs.

Due to their size, however, they may not be too suitable for people with limited mobility and bedridden patients.

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18. Dachshunds

Dachshunds are often the butt of jokes due to their unique “wiener” shape, but in reality they are among the fiercest small dogs around. When you are bred to kill badgers, you have to be. They have retained their active nature to this day and this is one of the main reasons they excel at being therapy dogs.

Thanks to their playful disposition, they have been very successfully used as therapy dogs for patients with depression, autism, anxiety disorders and epilepsy. They are used in other types of therapy work also, where their small size is a plus and where their affectionate nature is a bonus.

They may require a bit more training, but once they are trained, they are very obedient and they behave very well. They just need a bit of “their time” every now and then.

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19. Labradoodles

We already had Labradors and poodles on our list and it was only logical that the mix between these two breeds would also find its place here. And really, labradoodles are often identified as some of the best therapy dogs out there.

For one, they are very intelligent and they quickly learn everything that is required of them. Their training does not take long and once they learn something, they never forget it. Furthermore, they have wonderful temperament and they just adore children. We must also mention the fact that they are hypoallergenic dogs.

They can be used in all types of therapy work, but one field where they are just irreplaceable is helping children with autism. Spending time with labradoodles has been found to help social integration, self-esteem and confidence.

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20. Great Dane

The Great Dane is a bona fide giant and even though it may seem too imposing a breed for something as sensitive as therapy work, these gentle giants actually do extremely well as therapy dogs. Of course, their great size limits them somewhat, but when size is not the issue, they are among the finest therapy dogs that you could have.

For one, great Danes are extremely calm and level-headed. You will rarely see one of these beautiful dogs lose its temper. They also rarely bark, which can be of great importance on certain “jobs”. In addition to this, they are as gentle as they come.

Furthermore, great Danes are also playful and loving, quick to make friends. Above everything else, you can always trust a great Dane. They will never let you down.

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21. Chihuahua

Chihuahuas have almost become a victim of a certain image that they got from effectively becoming “accessories” for different types (it’s basically the same type) of celebrities who carry them around in their purses. These tiny dogs are actually very proud animals that are also more than suitable for therapy work.

Chihuahuas are very alert dogs and they show great intelligence when needed. In combination with their confidence, this makes them more than well-suited to provide people with the companionship that is involved in dog therapy.

Another trait that helps them be amazing therapy dogs is their petite stature which allows for them to be lifted into hospital beds to be petted. Chihuahuas may be small, but they make for great therapy dogs.

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