The Golden Dogs of Therapy


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Golden retrievers are an iconic breed, known for their good nature, intelligence, love of training, and ability to learn quickly. They make wonderful companions and thus are one of the most popular breeds for service and therapy dog work.

Kathi Wahl has been a Therapy Dog Volunteer for 28 years. She is a Tester/Observer (T/O) for Alliance of Therapy Dog, a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, and a member of LAX PUPS. She says there are countless reasons golden retrievers make therapy dogs, but she gives us her top five reasons here.

5 Reasons Goldies Make Great Therapy Dogs

1.Golden retrievers are naturally amiable, cute, smart, and friendly.

2.They are great at soliciting attention and approaching people.

3.Goldens love to please.

4.Those big golden smiles, the unique “wiggles,” and their warm, reassuring eyes serve to comfort, soothe, and evoke joy.

5.Goldens tend to put people at ease.

Kathi began her therapy dog career with a dog named Sierra. She was a chocolate Lab who was always drawn to people with white hair. Kathi noticed her intense fascination and started looking for a program that would allow Sierra to visit people in nursing homes or hospitals. She found the Orange County SPCA OC Animal Allies in 1996. She prepared Sierra for the certification test, and she passed. Together, they worked story times, care facilities, memory care, foster children’s facilities, and special Olympics events. Kathi says, “Sierra taught me that I needed to learn about training.”

Those big golden smiles, the unique “wiggles,” and their warm, reassuring eyes serve to comfort, soothe, and evoke joy.


Then she met Mick, a 4-month-old golden who needed to be rehomed. She took him in.

“He was so easy to train—gentle, friendly, and he made people smile. So, we took a class and I learned that he really wanted to please, and he was so smart. Mick taught me why people love goldens. He worked with OCSPCA (now called OC Animal Allies); it was an honor to be at the end of his leash.”

Today, Kathi and her working therapy dog Monty regularly visit school campuses, airports, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and cancer and hospice centers. They are also part of the Los Angeles International Airport PUPS (Pets Unstressing Passengers) program which aims to help alleviate the stress of traveling for those who need it.

“Monty is one of the best therapy dogs I’ve seen. He is so good at soliciting—he walks up to people and stands sideways and just melts into them,” Kathi shares. “He went from a dog that didn’t like to be hugged to a dog whose natural instinct is to hug.”

Monty had a rough beginning before meeting Kathi. He was purchased from a pet store and then rescued from an abusive situation. When his owner surrendered him, he handed over all the paperwork from the pet store he’d purchased him from. When Kathi looked at the dates on the paperwork, she realized she and Monty had crossed paths before. Earlier that year, she’d seen Monty in that pet store window. The store was known for supporting unethical breeding, so Kathi and other animal lovers were always walking by the window to check on the puppies.

It was meant to be. Kathi welcomed Monty into her home as a foster but soon made it official and adopted him. He was skittish, easily scared, and did not like being hugged. She found she had to use a softer training voice with him. But all that gradually changed throughout his training, and Monty became an official therapy dog at 13 months old.


Kathi says experiencing moments of therapy with Monty and seeing the magic he provokes in patients is something she is grateful for. She shares, “Monty and I visited a patient who was in a coma—her eyes were open, but she was non-responsive. The room was full of machines that were loud and distracting. Monty wasn’t affected by the noise of the machines at all. During our regular visits, we would help the patient pet Monty. On one visit, Monty placed his head next to her hand and near her face and she reached out to touch his face. That was the first time this patient had moved since entering a coma. Her family was there, and it was a very touching experience. Moments like that make you appreciate how therapy dogs work.”


How Can My Dog Become a Therapy Dog?


If your dog is gentle, calm, and loves meeting new people, they might be a great candidate to be a therapy dog. If you’d like to learn more about certification, the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD) is a good place to start.


ATD offers testing, certification, registration, support, and insurance for members who volunteer with their dogs in animal-assisted activities. ATD looks for dogs who are well mannered, well behaved, and enjoy meeting people to join their program. Therapy dogs of ATD work in a variety of locations, including schools, hospitals, memory centers, and airports, to name just a few. You can learn more by visiting

The Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) program, created by the American Kennel Club, is an expert-made training program designed to help you and your dog be the best you can be– together.

Canine Good Citizen is a 10-skill test that teaches good manners to dogs and responsible dog ownership to their owners. Some of the skills on the test include:

—Coming when called

—Walking through a crowd

—Reaction to another dog

—Sit, down, stay on cue

—Supervised separation

You can find preparatory classes and information about certification at

Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey
Alicia Bailey is a writer specializing in animal welfare topics and issues. Prior to writing full time she spent 13+ years working in rescue and animal sheltering, holding leadership roles in both. She has worked with numerous local and national non-profit organizations including Best Friends Animal Society, NKLA, The Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Coachella Valley Animal Campus, and many others. Alicia is mom to 3 uniquely abled dogs, including @LittleBoogieShoes & @Bust.A.Moves.


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