Wags Therapy Dog Program

Helping patients heal isn’t just a job for doctors and nurses. Studies have shown that therapy dogs in hospitals reduce patients’ blood pressure, lower pain perception and improve experience in children and adults.

Trooper the dog

University of Missouri Health Care’s Wags program uses a team of volunteers with highly trained therapy dogs to brighten the days of patients. While we can’t be with you in-person at this time, we look forward to returning to our facilities in the future once it’s safe. We miss your friendly faces!

What is a therapy dog?

Therapy dogs are pet dogs that are trained to provide comfort and emotional support to other people for short periods of time. They have earned their certification as therapy dogs through an organization that requires testing, including a behavioral component, such as Therapy Dogs International or the University of Missouri Veterinary Health Center PALS program.

How does the program work?

Wags facilitates volunteer therapy dog visits to various MU Health Care locations. These pre-scheduled visits — with patients, visitors and/or staff — are designed to deliver the many benefits associated with human-animal interaction, including reducing stress, anxiety, pain, and blood pressure as well as improving mood, mental stimulation and motivation.

Is the program safe for patients?

Human volunteers undergo background and health screenings, and dogs must be certified therapy dogs through an approved organization and stay up to date on health screenings. All dogs must be bathed and groomed shortly before visiting and remain under the control of their volunteer handler (usually the owner) for the duration of their visit.


An additional volunteer or staff member facilitates each visit to ensure the use of hand sanitizer before and after petting the dog, use of a clean linen as a barrier between the bed/chair and the dog, removal of food and drink from the immediate area, and monitoring the interaction for signs of distress. Additionally, patients are screened to ensure clinical appropriateness of the visit.

How Can I Help?

Wags needs volunteers both with and without dogs! Please read the below descriptions, and fill out the form at the end of the page if you're interested in volunteering.

I would like to be an assistant

Our volunteer assistants serve a vital role by ensuring the safety of all involved! They focus on the safety measures necessary for each visit and are there to help the handler if needed. The assistance of volunteer assistants allows handlers to focus 100 percent on their dogs to ensure a safe and effective visit. Of course, volunteer assistants also get plenty of time to interact with our furry friends, too!

I have a dog that is not yet certified

If your dog is not certified, you will need to get your dog to pass a certification test through Therapy Dogs International (typically offered in the spring and fall at Ann Gafke’s Teacher’s Pet or Columbia Canine Sports Center) or through the University of Missouri Veterinary Health Center PALS program (offered year round) before s/he can volunteer as a therapy dog.

The test will include high-level obedience work as well as a behavioral evaluation. Formal obedience classes are not required prior to testing, but they are encouraged as it is often easier for handlers to train their dogs. In the meantime, you are welcome to volunteer as an assistant until your dog becomes certified!

I have a certified dog

Great! Please fill out the form below.

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