Frazer Blog

Coping with Grief: What Makes a Therapy Dog?

by | Nov 14, 2018 | For Families, Funeral Profession

couple petting dog

Is your funeral home considering adding an adorable four-legged addition to your staff? More and more funeral homes have a therapy dog to help comfort their grieving families.

Not only do therapy dogs help comfort families, they’re also scientifically proven to help improve our overall health. Petting a dog increases serotonin and dopamine levels in our brain that reduces stress and improves our mood. It also lowers blood pressure and helps people feel less lonely.

Studies also show that families would want a therapy dog to comfort them while grieving a loss. The 2017 NFDA Consumer Preference Survey found that more than half of the participants said they’d either be somewhat, very, or extremely interested in having a therapy dog at a funeral or memorial service. It gives people — especially children — someone to talk to during an emotional and a confusing time.

However, there’s a lot more to it than just deciding to get a therapy pup. There are some necessary planning and training that goes along with it.

Therapy Dog Requirements

Therapy dogs need to be hypo-allogenic, non-shedding, up-to-date on vaccines, and have a calm demeanor. It also helps if they have a friendly and outgoing personality.

Some recommended breeds for therapy dogs are:

  • Bichon Frise
  • Labradoodles
  • Maltese
  • Poodles
  • Shih Tzu
  • Some Schnauzers
  • Some Terriers

Training Process

There are many programs that train therapy dogs for you and your funeral home can apply for one. Or if one of your staff members has a dog that they’d like to certify, their dog can go through the training to see if they’re qualified.

The specific training requirements may vary depending on the program. They’ll likely go through several levels of training and have to pass a series of tests. You’ll also have to train your staff on taking care of your therapy dog and teach them the necessary commands. Often times, the program will have a trainer to help you start out.

For example, at this year’s NFDA Convention, one of the campfire sessions was by Ultimate Canine, and they explained their training process. Their therapy puppies start socializing right away in the community at places such as schools or nursing homes. They’re taught basic commands and then some more advanced skills. Then, they need to pass a test where they’re ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 for several factors, and they need to score high on the scale to be qualified.

Home Life

You’ll want to choose a primary caregiver for your therapy dog and possibly a secondary caregiver as well. The primary caregiver will most likely be who the dog lives with.

When not at your funeral home, it’s important that they can go home and just be a dog. Therapy dogs can become stressed and emotionally tired from comforting many people throughout the day. They need some time to relax and recharge.

An occasional change of scenery also may help. For example, you can check with your local hospice centers and nursing homes to see if you can bring in your therapy pup to comfort the residents.

Does your funeral home have a therapy dog? At the beginning of each month, we feature a therapy dog who works in the funeral profession on our Instagram. Email us at if you want to be featured!


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