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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 complete the form on this page to download a fillable caretaking schedule for your new public safety pup.

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.


Don't forget – download a fillable therapy dog weekly checklist to use at your organization and keep your new four-legged friend on a consistent schedule! There are also spots to record the date and distance of walks, and a fillable calendar for vet appointments. Fill out the form at the bottom of this article to download the free PDF for use as part of your new therapy dog program.

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”.


Read next:

Therapy dogs: The next step in enhancing firefighter wellness programs

Dogs have a long history helping firefighters; now they expand their role to offer physical and mental health benefits

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:


Orthopedic dog bed with memory foam

This is an orthopedic dog bed option, which will be easy on your dog’s joints as he gets older. It also has a removable cover for easy washing – always a plus.


Washable couch cover with pillow

This might be helpful if you have station furniture you want to protect from accidents or scratches from excited puppies.


Waterproof action collar for dogs

This rugged collar is tear-proof and waterproof for active dogs in case your new pup is the adventurous type.


Firefighter turnout gear collar

Or, perhaps, you want your therapy dog to match your fire department members?


EMS-themed dog collar

Or your EMS members?


Police tape-themed dog collar

Or your police officers?


Reflective leash

This a durable option that is also reflective, which might come in handy if you end up taking your pup for a stroll around the block after a call at 2 a.m. before you head back to bed.


Interactive dog bone toy

If it’s a busy night and Fido can’t be walked right away, this is a great option, as it will move on its own and give your pup a bit of exercise while everyone is off fighting crime, fires or cardiac arrests.


Treat dispenser puzzle

This is another good option that will help keep your dog entertained and his mind sharp. 

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.

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.