This unique training course provides Visiting Therapy-Dog Certification and Therapy-Dog Handler Certification taught by the leaders in the industry.

*Please Note: This course has been adapted due to COVID-19 and is now being delivered partially online*

This intensive 6-day course is the first step in our training programme, and will provide both you and your dog the certification required to start your work together as a therapy dog and handler team. Visiting Therapy Dogs at the Foundation level are assessed for suitability, desire and safety to work with a range of different people, including children and the elderly.

Established in 2006, this course has graduated close to 400 Therapy-Dog and Handler teams and continues to set the standards for the training & certification of Therapy Dogs. Our highly trained and experienced team can help you achieve your goals to provide Animal-Assisted Therapy or Animal-Assisted Interventions in a range of settings, such as education and schools, mental health, welfare, disability, health, and other human-service settings. We are not just professional dog trainers, we are experienced professionals in human-animal interactions and the human-animal bond including psychologists, counsellors, social workers, educators, vet nurses and animal scientists.

The Foundation Course provides a solid foundation to begin your work in professional therapeutic settings (such as Animal-Assisted Therapy – AAT), schools and educational settings (such as Animal-Assisted Education – AAE) or visiting, volunteer or recreational settings (such as Animal-Assisted Activities – AAA). The course provides a comprehensive background to Therapy-Dog training, handling, socialisation, psychology of canine learning, body language, canine first aid, and Canine Good Behaviour Shaping (manners). It also provides information to help get you started in Animal-Assisted Interventions, including research on how Human-Animal Interactions (HAI) are beneficial, how to manage ethical and legal issues, and understanding occupational health and safety. Participants will learn how to safely handle, manoeuvre and introduce their dogs to a range of clients. At the end of this course, you will have the skills to begin your work together in visiting or professional settings.

Continually refined and developed, our courses bring together Australia’s leading experts to provide you the most sought after Therapy Dog and Animal-Assisted Intervention (AAI) certifications in the country.

As part of our Therapy Dog & Handler Team Certifications, we provide;

  • Detailed knowledge of Animal-Assisted Interventions (AAI) and Human Animal Interactions (HAI) with opportunities for further training and development post certification
  • A purpose built training & therapeutic venue with excellent facilities & on-site accommodation
  • A multi-disciplinary approach suitable for a range of applications, from volunteer visiting, to education, health, welfare, and mental health
  • Comprehensive guidelines, policies and procedures to get you started in a professional workplace including best-practice guidelines for handlers, OH&S, risk assessment, health & welfare assessments and record keeping
  • Supervised workplace visits into the local community for real-world experience during your course
  • A comprehensive method of reward-based dog-training that doesn’t rely on food. It doesn’t matter what, if any, training your dog has had, we will teach you exceptionally high levels of obedience and manners in a very short period of time.

Note: We do not have multiple offices, and operate primarily from a facility in Victoria, with interstate courses run annually. We do not have any affiliations with other organisations, nor do we authorise other trainers to provide training with our materials.

Location: Brand new venue in 2020! Mullum Therapeutic Farm, Panton Hill Victoria

*COVID-19 Adapted venue – Online days 1-4 and face to face in Knoxfield (large indoor venue with social distancing) for days 5 – 6 (subject to restrictions)

Dates & Times: 6 consecutive days, Monday to Saturday 9am – 5pm. All upcoming course dates can be found in our Events Calendar, and Application Form

Cost: Early bird (pay in full two weeks prior to due date) $2200
Standard price $2450 inc GST.

*This course replaces the Intensive Therapy Dog Handlers Course – 5 days from 2016.


Course Details

This course focuses equally on the theories underpinning AAIs, and the ability to practice and deliver interventions with your dog. Each day is divided into a combination of practice and theory. Lectures are designed to enhance participant’s understanding of the skills gained each day, and the knowledge will build over the course of the week. Participants must attend all components of the course, as learning is both sequential and cumulative. All course applicants must be a minimum of 18 years of age, and have a current Working With Children Check (or equivalent) and adequate spoken and written English, and the capacity to study, and to work with and train dogs over 6 consecutive days. All applicants must be accompanied by their own dog, and will receive certification as a team with that dog.

Each applicant may bring only one dog per course, and the dog must be of suitable age, temperament and health (see our Therapy Dog Suitability Checklist for further information).

Applicants from overseas should speak with us in advance about alternative options.

Learning Objectives

This course is designed to teach Therapy-Dog and Handler teams the skills required to visit institutions such as professional workplaces, nursing homes, hospitals, schools & residential facilities. Upon successful completion of the course, participants will receive a certificate and Therapy-Dog Identification Coat.

The course will enable participants to;

1. Demonstrate effective, reward-based dog handling skills in novel and highly distracting situations, including;

  • Canine communication (Canine Cognitive Tonal Conditioning), behaviour shaping, and problem solving
    (understanding how dogs learn and respond)
  • Obedience skills to reliable standards under distraction, including sit, drop, heel, recall and ‘step away’ (stay)

2. Describe how leadership, trust and consistency impacts on the human-canine team, and the dog’s ability to work as a visiting therapy-dog

3. Describe and implement the Quadrants of Canine Good Behaviour Shaping (CGBS) strategies to ensure the ongoing leadership and trust between dog and handler

4. Identify and describe the strengths and weaknesses of the human-canine team, including stress and fatigue, and methods to identify animal wellbeing

5. Describe the differences between various types of animal-assisted intervention (AAI), including therapy (AAT), psychotherapy (AAP), activities (AAA), and education (AAE) and demonstrate an understanding of the professional (and legal) boundaries of each

6. Describe at least three benefits of human-animal interaction (HAI) with your chosen population group (e.g. youth, elderly, disabled) and how you may engage with these populations (e.g. triangle/diamond, volunteer/professional)

7. Identify the key components required to implement AAls in various settings, including OH&S

8. Develop and demonstrate a simple AAI role-play with the assistance of other course participants, including;

  • Demonstrate at least three commands with the dog (including ‘free’) demonstrating the capacity to effectively facilitate the dog’s engagement with a client by utilising the ‘say hello’ interaction
  • Demonstrate appropriate handling, communication & supervision of the visiting therapy-dog to ensure the safety of all parties, whilst simultaneously engaging a client

9. Conduct two supervised workplace visits demonstrating appropriate professional conduct and management of the visiting therapy-dog around novel people, including older people and children

Requirements for Dogs

An Animal-Assisted Therapy Dog must be sociable and love people. They need to be at least 8 months of age and healthy enough to cope with the intensive 6 day course.

The dog must be your own dog and reside with you as the bond you develop over the course, and in the months following, will be the foundation for your working life together – you will be certified as a team.

Dogs should be keen to approach strangers, and must not have any fear or aggression with people, dogs or other animals. Don’t be concerned if your dog seems overly excitable or exuberant, or a little reserved – no prior obedience is required and we will teach the ‘good manners’ and behaviours required to pass the assessment.

The vast majority of happy (people-loving) family pets will pass this course, however some dogs may have a history of trauma or concerning behaviours which may make them unsuitable for therapy work. Therefore, if your dog has any particular fears, issues, or concerning behaviour (such as aggression) you will need to speak with us about behavioural rehabilitation PRIOR to enrolling in the course. If unsure, please refer to the Therapy Dog Suitability Checklist.

It is important to note that young dogs are still growing and developing, both physically and mentally. This means that whilst your young dog fits the Suitability criteria now, this may change. For this reason, we have additional follow-up requirements for baby dogs under one year of age.

All dogs must provide proof of a current C5 vaccination and parasite control (fleas/worms). As the dogs will be visiting clients in the community on the final day of the course, we ask that you consider booking your dog in for a hydrobath on the Friday evening. As a minimum your dog must be groomed, clean and presentable.

Dogs certified as Visiting Therapy Dogs with Lead The Way must not work or engage in activities that promote aggression to people (e.g. guard or protection training) or to animals (hunting, herding or fighting).

Please note: Dog’s certified as Visiting Therapy Dogs do not qualify for public access (for example entering shops or restaurants) as they don’t provide direct support to an individual with a disability.  If your dog works as your assistance/service dog, you must contact us prior to enrolling.

Therapy-Dog Suitability Checklist

Use the following checklist as a handy reference guide:

  1. My dog is comfortable meeting strangers (e.g. in the park or the street), and shows this by approaching or seeking attention if allowed
  2. My dog is happy when we have visitors come to the home, and seeks attention from them
  3. My dog likes children
  4. My dog likes elderly or disabled people
  5. My dog is not fearful of cars, bikes, trolleys, skate-boards or other moving objects
  6. My dog is not fearful of stairs, shiny floors, elevators, lights, fans or other typical environments
  7. My dog enjoys being patted, touched and cuddled by strangers
  8. My dog can be left alone at times without becoming distressed or destructive
  9. I can leave my dog tied up or tethered in a safe location for brief periods without them becoming distressed or destructive
  10. My dog will happily go off with a friend or family member without me, without becoming distressed
  11. My dog is reliably toilet trained, and does not ‘mark’ inappropriate objects/furniture indoors or outdoors
  12. My dog enjoys outings and novel activities, for example visiting a new person or place
  13. My dog is generally willing to comply with requests, even if unsure or nervous (e.g. tolerates grooming, being taken off/sharing their bed, having a toy or treat taken away, visiting the vet, being checked over or having a wound looked at) without growling or becoming fearful
  14. My dog shows willingness to learn various obedience commands e.g. sitting or lying down (even if only informally at home) without growling or becoming fearful (Note: Dogs will be taught exceptionally high level of obedience and manners as part of the course)
  15. My dog will cope with being in a room with other dogs (on-lead) and learning obedience in close proximity to other dogs without growling, lunging or becoming fearful
  16. My dog is part of my life and my household, e.g. comes into the house, participates in activities
  17. My dog is fit and healthy enough to travel to a workplace and engage physically with strangers
  18. My dog is fully vaccinated and treated for parasites (e.g. fleas, worms) by a licensed Veterinarian
  19. My dog has NO untreated or unstable medical conditions
  20. My dog is NOT afraid of strangers, and does not growl at or avoid strangers, e.g. men in hats, toddlers running, people carrying equipment or making odd noises etc.
  21. My dog does not ‘mouth’ (place mouth or teeth on people) even in play (including puppies)
  22. My dog is NOT aggressive towards other animals such as cats, chooks, ponies or farm animals e.g. enjoys their company, is inquisitive (even excitable), or is indifferent (does not chase/hunt)
  23. My dog does NOT have any obvious fears or phobias (e.g. thunderstorms, electrical equipment, vacuums, cleaning chemical smells)
  24. I do NOT have any concerns about the way my dog interacts, and I feel s/he would genuinely enjoy physical contact with strangers, including being hugged and picked up
  25. My dog does NOT engage in activities that promote aggression to people (e.g. guard or protection training) or to animals (e.g. hunting, herding, or fighting)
  26. My dog does NOT perform a life-saving alerting function for me or another person (e.g. medical alert dog, PTSD service dog, Autism service dog) which would represent a potential conflict for the dog during client work
  27. My dog has NEVER bitten or attempted to bite a person

(Note: Dogs will be taught an exceptionally high level of obedience and manners as part of the course)

Assessment & Certification

All teams passing the assessment on the final day will be supplied with a certificate and a Therapy-Dog Identification Coat.

Please note that teams MUST pass the behavioural, handling and role-play assessments prior to being able to attend the final workplace assessment (community visit). Aggressive or otherwise dangerous reactions from a dog will result in a grade of ‘not suitable’ for therapy work. Out of control or fearful/avoidant behaviour will result in a grade of ‘not yet competent’ and recommendations for ongoing training or rehabilitation will be provided.

Teams who are ‘not yet competent’ on the final day of the course, may re-enrol in the assessment at a later date, or may enrol in the (Re)Certifcation Day (subject to availability and staff recommendation).

Certification* remains current for 1 year for adult and adolescent dogs (aged 1 year and over), and 6 months for puppies (aged 8-12 months). Certification may be removed at any stage if your dog fails to meet the Suitability Requirements.

(Re)Certification days are held three times a year. Teams with current certification will be listed on the Lead The Way Institute Directory page.

*Please note certification standards have been updated in 2019 in accordance with the International Society of Animal Assisted Therapy (ISAAT) and the International Association of Human Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO) Guidelines.

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)

Handlers and dogs that have extensive experience in the Canine Leadership System (as taught by Alpha and its affiliates) including Canine Cognitive Tonal Conditioning and Canine Good Behaviour Shaping may be eligible for RPL for some components of the course.

RPL will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and will not result in a reduction of course fees.

Handlers or dogs with experience in other forms of dog-training/obedience or past experience with therapy-dog visiting alone are not eligible for RPL.

Day One


  • Dog Handling Essentials

  • Pattern Learning Training Method
  • Canine Cognitive Tonal Conditioning

  • Leadership, trust & consistency – sit and ‘Step Away’


  • Foundations of canine learning and training. Leadership Obedience

  • Canine first aid

Day Two


  • Drop & ‘Step Away’

  • Heel & auto halt

  • Extended ‘Step Aways’ under distraction


  • Quadrants of Canine Good Behaviour Shaping (CGBS)

Day Three


  • Applied CGBS – off-lead manners and control

  • Doorways, boundary and proximity setting

  • Recall


  • Quadrants of CGBS cont.

  • AAI Principles & Theory

Day Four


  • Socialisation principles, including familiarisation with equipment

  • Loose lead walking

  • Advanced distraction and distance training


  • OH&S, welfare and ethics in AAI

  • AAI workplace applications and readiness

Day Five


  • Applied socialisation and obedience in novel contexts (farm animals, workshop)

  • Scenario applications – simulated client interactions


  • Behavioural assessment
  • Handling assessment

  • Role-play assessment
Day Six

Pre-requisite: Dog and Handler teams must have successfully completed the behavioural, handling and role-play assessments (Day Five)

Workplace Assessment (Community Visits)

  • Visit with a group of children
  • Visit a street cafe
  • Visit an aged care facility

Certification & Graduation

Course Specific FAQ’s

What should I wear?

Please wear sensible clothing, including sturdy, closed-toe shoes and bring a coat, sunscreen and a hat. Thongs, slip-ons and sandals are not safe footwear for the course. Adequate undercover and indoor air-conditioned training spaces are available, however we will venture outside on the farm and into the paddocks on occasion. Please bring gumboots and a raincoat on Thursday and Friday of the course if the weather is inclement

Is the course catered?

Light refreshments will be supplied every day. Boiling water, fridge and microwave are also supplied for your convenience.

To help keep costs to a minimum, please bring your lunch.

What should I bring?

Participants will be expected to bring their dogs to the centre each day of the course. Your dog will need to be wearing a well-fitting collar and must be on-lead at all times when at the centre (unless under the direct instruction of our staff). During lectures, dogs will be learning to settle alongside their owners, but may be tethered during lunch breaks

You will be provided with comprehensive course and lecture notes and given ample time to ask questions relevant to your particular interests or profession. Please bring a pen and some additional paper to take notes if required.

I am travelling Interstate, where can I stay?

There is limited on-site shared accommodation available (please contact us for more information). There are also many local accommodation options such as B&B’s. An Internet search will provide you with many options. We also keep a list of  pet-friendly local B&B’s that have been recommended to us by previous course participants.