Been to an airport recently and seen a happy furry friend with a “Pet Me”  jacket on? He’s probably a part of that airport’s therapy dog program, geared towards helping customers de-stress while waiting for their flights. These dogs (and cats and pigs!) are there to pet and play within times of stress. A flight that’s been delayed? Going home for a stressful reason like a funeral? These therapy animals are here to give you a tiny reprieve, and their popularity has seen programs pop up in airports around the world, from the U.S. to Canada, and recently to the U.K.

The Emergence of Therapy Dogs in Airports

Therapy dogs have actually been around since the 9/11 terror attack. Their goal was to help flyers who were understandably nervous about their flights to calm down. They were so successful that videos of passengers reacting to these pet therapy dogs convinced airports around the country to start implementing their own programs. The programs have today become so widespread and integral to the airport’s success in helping passengers de-stress.  These dogs are so popular that many therapy dogs have their own social media accounts, hashtags, and even trading cards. Their goal is to bring people together and to help them benefit from the relaxation that comes from petting a dog.

How Many Airports Have Therapy Dog Programs?

Therapy dogs in airports have become increasingly popular in recent years, meaning more passengers throughout the U.S. and the world are benefiting from the calming effects of therapy animals (cats and even pigs are employed nowadays). The number of programs is jumping, both in numbers and in countries.

According to Vane Airport Media Inc, Airport Therapy Dogs: In 2017, there were a confirmed number of 48 programs, with a few more trialing the program. In 2018, that number increased to 58, and the movement is spread internationally. Just last summer the U.K. introduced its first therapy dog at the Aberdeen International Airport.

How Often Do These Dogs Visit?

Only a few airports, however, have their therapy dogs available all day, every day. Some visit on a weekly basis, others monthly. You need to remember that these dogs are there on a volunteer basis with their owners. These volunteers come with their well-behaved pets for the sole reason of helping others smile during a stressful period like a flight delay. That being said, the programs are expanding. Some airports use many teams (owners and dogs) who take rotating shifts so that every day, passengers can see and pet a therapy dog.

The Difference Between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs

There is a big difference between therapy dogs and service dogs, and they shouldn’t be confused. The reason why the increase of therapy dogs in airports is so notable is that they are there to be loved and pet. Service dogs, however, are there for a job. They are there to specifically to help their owners with a disability. They cannot be pet or played with by other humans or else they might get distracted and put their owner at risk.

Therapy dogs don’t have special rights, but service dogs do. Therefore therapy dogs are only allowed into airports once the airport itself starts a therapy dog program.

In terms of airport-sponsored therapy dogs, only a certified therapy dog will be considered, but any well-behaved dog can apply through a therapy dog association to gain that certification so long as they are calm, loving, obedient and tolerant of other dogs/animals. These therapeutic dogs can use their training in a variety of locations, from airports, to schools, to hospitals, and they almost always bring a soothing, calming touch that people need in these stressful times.

What Does This Mean?

This means that the dogs you encounter at the airport have all received certification and insurance from therapy dog organizations like the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. They are safe to pet, play with, and meet. Of course, just obtaining a certification isn’t the only requirement. Dogs will be walked through the airport before they start to see how they react to the bustling environment. If all goes well, their owner will undergo security and background checks. The therapy dogs you see in airports,  and their owners, are all carefully vetted.

How Can Your Dog Become a Therapy Dog?

By obtaining a therapy dog certification with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (therapy, your dog will have the credentials needed to help others in a variety of different situations and locations nationwide.  You can apply to volunteer at a number of other programs near you to help others. Just because your dog or even you don’t get accepted at the airport doesn’t mean that your dog’s therapeutic love won’t be valuable elsewhere.

Of course, not every dog is suitable to be a therapy dog. Dogs must have a stable temperament, good manners, and be very obedient. So if your dog is rambunctious, playful, and hyperactive, they probably won’t make the cut until you work further on their manners. Your dog also needs to be great with strangers, so if they are protective of you when around new people that might also pose a problem. If this is the case, don’t worry. Your dog is still a lovable furball. They just may not be suitable for people who are under stress but can still be a wonderful family pet.