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Become a Therapy Dog Team

In order to become a working therapy dog team with NCTD, you must complete (1) prerequisites, (2) classes and evaluation, (3) registration, and (4) mentoring.  The training program will help develop the skills you and your dog need to handle any situation that may arise while volunteering. We will work closely with each team in order to prepare you for the therapy dog evaluation and to help facilitate a fun and rewarding volunteer experience.  Click on the icons below to learn more about each process.

NCTD Checklists

Printable checklists are provided for your convenience, that details the necessary steps to become a NCTD Therapy Team and for New NCTD Therapy Teams. Please print out the checklists to help you track your progress and ensure you meet all of the requirements.

NCTD Class Checklist


Before starting on your journey to become a pet therapy team, you and your pet must meet the following prerequisites:

  • Your dog must have passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen test which highlights the most basic of obedience skills.
    • Sit, Down, Stay on command
    • Walk on loose leash (no pulling handler, or dragging behind)
  • Prior to undergoing the Therapy Dog Evaluation, new volunteer teams are required to take the Handler's Class and the Therapy Dog Training Class (TDTC).
  • You must be at least 12 years old to volunteer with adult supervision (parent, guardian or someone with parent or guardian's written consent), and you should be at least 16 years old to work without an adult
  • Only certain domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits and pet birds may become NCTD therapy animals. For other types of pets, please Contact Us
  • Dogs must have lived with you for at least six months and be at least 10 months old to begin Therapy Dog Training Classes, and 1 year old to take the Evaluation.
  • Dogs need to be in good health, be current with their rabies vaccine and have a health form filled out by their veterinarian. A copy of current rabies vaccination must be provided by the first day of class.
  • Dogs must be reliably housebroken
  • In some instances, we may be able to evaluate dogs for their CGC on the first day of class. If a dog does not pass the CGC evaluation, course costs will be refunded. (Requests for the CGC evaluation must be made in advance.)

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Register for Classes/Evaluation

Generally, NCTD sponsors training and evaluation for new volunteers in the Baltimore-Washington area approximately four times each year. Because our volunteers come from a wide area, classes are held in various locations (usually Howard or Montgomery County MD) to allow for easier access for participants. Early registration is always appreciated as our classes can fill up quickly.

To begin, you must preregister for all three educational events:

Dates and times for our classes and evaluations can be found on the Calendar of Events. Selectng the desired event will take you to the online registration page where you can also make a secure payment through PayPal. If you do not want to pay online, you can follow the instructions below to register by mail. Because class space is limited, it is best to register online, even if you aren't going to pay online to reserve your place for a class or evaluation.

For those not wishing to pay online, please print and fill out the NCTD Registration Form, and mail it to the NCTD Registrar address, listed at the bottom of the form, with a check. Note that paper registration forms may not be reviewed and acknowledged until shortly before the event. In order to ensure you get a place in a class or evaluation it is best to register online, even if you're mailing the payment(s).

Please direct any questions pertaining to classes or evaluations to the Director of Training on our Leadership Team.

Handler's Class

This one day intensive training class for prospective therapy animal handlers is taught by trained NCTD instructors. The class features lecture and PowerPoint presentations, class discussion, role play, demonstration, and videos. It will cover topics such as therapy animal team registration requirements, different health care settings and populations, visiting tips and techniques, and managing stress and difficult situations.

The fee for this course includes a resource guide, which will be distributed at the class.

Additional Notes:

  • A copy of your dog's current rabies certificate and AKC Canine Good Citizen certification is required.
  • Sorry, no pets allowed at this class.
  • Dress comfortably.
  • Light refreshments and/or lunch will be provided, depending on class times.
  • A minimum of 5 students are required to offer this training; class size is limited to 15 people.
  • Registrations are accepted up to one week before class is held.
  • The training facilities are accessible for those with disabilities. If you have any special needs, please advise NCTD ahead of time.
  • Financial assistance may be available; individuals requesting assistance should write a letter to the NCTD Board for review. Forward letters with your training/screening application.
  • All fees must be received prior to attending this class and are non-refundable.
Therapy Dog Training Class

This class is for potential volunteers and their pets who would like to prepare for therapy work.

Class Goals:

NCTD Training Class Mall Visit

NCTD Training Class Mall Visit

  • Get to know more about NCTD.
  • Meet other NCTD volunteers, and learn from their visiting experiences.
  • Become prepared for therapy visits.
  • Get your pet exposed to hospital equipment.
  • Improve control and communication with your pet.
  • Practice team reaction to distractions.
  • Practice with successful therapy animals.
  • ... and much more!

Attendance Requirement:

  • Teams must attend 5 out of 6 classes to be eligible for evaluation.
  • The sixth class is generally a "mall visit" to practice visiting skills in a public setting.
  • Please do not sign up for a set of classes if you cannot commit to the schedule

The 6th class (mall visit) may be a different day, time, and location from the other classes.

Therapy Team Evaluation

After training, NCTD will perform an evaluation to determine if you and your animal are ready to start visiting. Note that this is a different event from your training classes and you must register in advance for an evaluation.

Team evaluations are performed by NCTD Team Evaluators. Your evaluator will be looking for reliable and predictable volunteer teams who will inspire confidence in clients.

In the evaluation, you and your animal will demonstrate that you are able to work as team, that your animal is under control, and that you and your animal are friendly and relate well to the role players and evaluator. All of these skills are described and practiced during the NCTD training classes.

What to Bring:

  • A copy of the animal's current rabies certificate (a rabies tag is not acceptable).
  • Animal's brush.
  • If you are not owner of the animal, we require a note from the owner granting permission for you to work with the animal.
  • Animal treats (if animal has special dietary needs).
  • Towel (for small animal tests).
  • Your animal must be on an acceptable collar/lead at all times.
    • The use of prong, pinch, choke, or electronic/shock collars are prohibited.
    • Flexi Leashes or chain leads are not allowed.
  • You will be required to sign an indemnity form when you come to the evaluation site.

Additional Notes:

  • The team (Volunteer/Pet) should present themselves as if they were going on a therapy visit.
  • The evaluation begins when you arrive on the premises and ends when you leave.
  • The person who will work with the animal must accompany it during the evaluation.
  • The evaluation may be stopped or cancelled if the volunteer or animal appears to be too stressed or if they behave inappropriately during the evaluation or on the premises.
  • Dogs, cats and birds must be at least one year of age (please inquire about rabbits).
  • Pets must be restrained by leash, harness, carrier, or other appropriate manner at all times, including birds.
  • If your pet is on antibiotics, in season (documentation required), or otherwise doesn't feel its best, please reschedule to have your pet evaluated another day (and please notify NCTD if unable to attend at last minute due to the above reasons).
  • A pet will not be evaluated more than once in the same day if it is unable to complete the evaluation as specified.
  • NO inhumane treatment of pets will be allowed.
  • The evaluation facilities are accessible for those who have disabilities.
  • Rescheduled evaluations will be given if the volunteer is ill.
  • No refunds will be given for teams that do not pass the evaluation.

Teams that pass the team evaluation and wish to work with NCTD will be assigned a mentor as part of NCTD's mentor program.

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NCTD New Team Checklist

Register as an NCTD Team

When you pass the NCTD evaluation, you may register as an NCTD Volunteer Team immediately if you bring your completed veterinary form (the NCTD Health Status Report) with you. You will receive an acceptance letter and an ID photo will be taken.

If you do not have your veterinary form, you will be given the address to send it to. When we receive everything, you will be added to our volunteer roster and to our E-mail mailing list. NCTD volunteers enjoy access to additional sections of the NCTD website, the ability to purchase NCTD gear, and special members-only events.

We communicate with our volunteers through a combination of group e-mail messages, web site information, and our e-newsletter.

Your NCTD "Uniform"

When you visit on behalf of NCTD, you must have an acceptable collar and leash for your animal, as well as the "NCTD Photo ID", which you will receive after you pass the team evaluation.

There are two choices for the animal's uniform:

  • An NCTD vest, which can be purchased at cost through NCTD
  • A standard green harness, or collar, available at most pet stores

NCTD also asks that handlers purchase a shirt with the NCTD logo through Land’s End. (We will give you the needed ordering information when you pass your team evaluation.) While not required, NCTD attire helps us maintain a professional image. Otherwise, be neat, clean, and comfortable.

Please note that in some cases, an individual facility may have their own specific dress requirements.   Many require that we wear a shirt with the NCTD logo. Others may have general restrictions such as no jeans or shorts. So be sure to ask about it when applying to a facility.

Select a Facility to Visit

You can find a list of NCTD-approved facilities on the Facility Directory page. If you already know the facility you want to visit, you may contact the NCTD Facility Coordinator for that site directly.

As you consider various facilities, you should know that some have specific requirement for volunteers. These may include things such as pre-screening, volunteer training, background checks, medical tests, or flu shots. Information on specific volunteer requirements is usually on the facility's website or available through their Volunteer office. The NCTD facility coordinator for that facility can also help you with this.

Don’t know where to start? Contact the Regional Director in your area and we will help you find a suitable placement. You can find those contacts on the NCTD Leadership Team list.

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Mentoring & Visiting

Once you select a facility, you will be assigned a mentor who will help you get on board and begin visiting with your pet partner. Generally, the process works like this:

Pre-Visit One or More NCTD Facilities

Arrange a date and time with your NCTD mentor when you can observe a visit at one or more of facilities in our Facility Directory. Pre-visits are done without your animal teammate. A pre-visit allows you to get familiar with the facility, as well as to address any additional facility-specific requirements (i.e. proof of a negative TB test, orientation through the volunteer office, facility ID, copy of animal's health forms). A pre-visit also provides an opportunity for you to ask questions of your m/font>

With NCTD's variety of facilities, feel free to pre-visit as many facilities as you wish to find the facility that best suits your team's needs. We recommend you start by visiting with your animal at only one facility and expand from there.

Your First Team Visit

Your first official visit at a facility will be one where you shadow and observe your mentor with her/his pet partner. On the next visit, your mentor will leave her/his animal at home and observe you on a visit with your animal. Your mentor can provide valuable feedback! If needed or requested, by you or the mentor, your mentor can observe you for additional visits.

Congratulations! It has been a lot of work for you and your animal partner, but you are now ready to start visiting on a regular basis.

Regular NCTD Visits

As an NCTD Volunteer, you are responsible for abiding by all NCTD policies and procedures. Also, in order to maintain an active volunteer status, you should:

  • Attend at least one NCTD Open Floor event or other approved training opportunity every calendar year.
  • Maintain your NCTD registration. Re-registration is required every three years.
  • Volunteer at one NCTD event each year.
  • Have your Facility Performance Review Forms completed annually.
  • Check your E-mail and the NCTD web site regularly for important information.

Have fun visiting!

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To bring comfort, healing, and learning to children and adults with certified therapy animals.

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NCTD is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

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