Dogs That Heal: Canine Therapy Corps

Written by: Ann Davidson, Operations Manager at Canine Therapy Corp

We’re so glad to see that Real Dog Moms of Chicago has been featuring so many great blog posts about therapy dogs recently.  We’d like to tell you about one more local organization specializing in therapy dogs: Canine Therapy Corps.

If you read the post from Pet Partners of Greater Chicago, you already know therapy dogs must pass a certification test and often visit individuals in tough situations, typically in hospitals, schools, or nursing centers.  Canine Therapy Corps does some of this type of work, but what we really specialize in is known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT). This means that in addition to providing a mood-boosting visit with a dog, we utilize the dog as an active part of a participant’s rehabilitation process, allowing them to work with the dog to further their therapeutic goals.  We also perform animal-assisted education, which is very similar, but focuses on educational goals for individuals with learning disabilities. We like to say that we don’t just help people feel better, we help them get better.

So what does this really mean in practice?  If we’re going into a hospital and working with physical therapy patients, for example, we would focus on the patients performing exercises with the dogs which work the areas of the body or the cognitive functions that they have lost.  If someone had a stroke affecting the left side of their body, for example, we could have them throw a ball for a dog using that arm, or perhaps have them give hand commands using their left arm to guide a dog through an agility course.  Someone whose hand is crippled by cerebral palsy might fill a treat puzzle for a patiently waiting dog, working on fine motor skills in the process. An individual with a severe brain injury might focus on remembering multiple commands to give the dog, or remembering the name of the dog and introducing them to the group at the end of a session.  


We can also use the dogs to assist individuals with mental health or behavioral issues, such as individuals in substance use rehabilitation, veterans with PTSD and other combat related mental health issues, or adolescents with severe behavior problems.  Unlike the physical therapy programs where we might see an individual once or twice before they are discharged from the hospital, we need a little more time to make an impact with this population, so dog teams typically work with the same individual for 6-10 weeks.  In these programs, we often hand the leash over to participants and coach them on how to train our dogs on things like obedience, agility, and a new trick. At the end of sessions, a clinician leads a discussion on how what they learned can relate to the rest of the therapy they are receiving.  As anyone who trains a dog knows, it teaches you a great deal about patience, impulse control, body language, and emotional bonds. These programs are a great opportunity for participants to build confidence, learn how to manage their frustrations in a healthy way, and redevelop healthy social bonds.  


In our animal-assisted education programs, we work with students with learning disabilities, primarily autism spectrum disorder.  Often, these students have difficulty focusing on one task at a time, and the simple act of walking a dog down a hallway can help with this, encouraging them to ignore distractions along the way, be aware of the dog’s speed to ensure they are not walking too fast or too slow, and remembering to keep the leash in their hand.  We often use choice boards with pictures of various activities that can be performed with the dog, helping them make independent choices more easily. We might also work on academic goals such as vocabulary or arithmetic by having students identify anatomical parts of the dog or count out a specific number of treats to give the dog.


Are you wondering if Canine Therapy Corps would be a good fit for you and your dog?  Check out our programs and see if one of them sparks your interest.  Canine Therapy Corps is not a therapy dog registry, which means we only certify dogs to work in the programs we set up, so if you have a place in mind to volunteer at that isn’t on our list, Pet Partners might be a better choice for you.  Because we are performing therapeutic interventions with the dogs, and most of our volunteers aren’t counselors or physical therapists, most of our programs are staffed by a clinician knowledgeable about the population we work with as well as a dog trainer to help guide you through appropriate exercises and help with any training or behavior issues you might have.


Our programs are typically scheduled on a weekly basis at the same time each week, so we’re a good fit for people who have a (relatively) consistent schedule.  As long as you are able to volunteer at least once a month, we can find a program for you. We have programs in the evening as well as the daytime (varies by program), so working a regular 9-5 job isn’t a problem.  If your dog has a little more energy than most, that isn’t a bad thing either. We love pups who energetically like running through an agility course and performing jumps and tricks (provided they are calm enough to pass our certification test, of course).  Don’t be intimidated by the agility, either.  Many of our dogs haven’t spent a day on an agility course in their lives before volunteering with us, and teaching a dog a new skill “on the job” is half the fun of volunteering!  







The best part of getting your dog certified as a therapy dog?  Being able to give back to your community and bond with your pup while doing it.  What could be better than that?


Are you interested in volunteering, or have more questions?  Check out our website, or feel free to reach out to Ann Davidson at or 773.404.6467 and let her know you read about Canine Therapy Corps on the RDMOC website!  

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