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German Shepherds: Foundation of the TDI Program

By: Kathi Jo Zornes, Member of TDI Since 2005

While there's an ongoing debate today whether or not the German Shepherd is still one the top dog breeds for Service Dog & Therapy Dog lines of work, I believe it deserves mentioning the foundation of the biggest therapy dog organization in the United States-Therapy Dogs International, Inc.(TDI) got its start with more German Shepherd Dogs than any other breed.

Therapy Dogs International, Inc. is a program that was founded in 1976 by registered nurse Elaine Smith. It was her vision to use canines to help mankind worldwide via mental therapy. The TDI program utilizes volunteers all over the United States who are willing to train and pass evaluation with their dogs and then go out and take their canines to local libraries, nursing homes, children's hospitals, and other approved facilities to help cheer people. Studies have shown that holding or petting an animal helps reduce blood pressure, can release tension, and even help pull people out of lonliness and depression. The program was formed so that dogs who had the temperament and training could become certified, have insurance, and be registered as volunteer Therapy Dogs. The organization gives recognition for the wonderful canines that have personalities that are needed assetts to benefit our communities. They provide emotional service and are not to be confused with assistance and/or service dogs who help people with disabilities.

When TDI was started, the following people and their dogs were the first group to make TDI visiting a reality: Elaine Smith with Phila (German Shepherd Dog), Ursula Kemp with Sam & Tippy (German Shepherd Dogs), Maeleine Loos with Jodi (Collie) Ronn Loos with Holli (German Sepherd Dog), and John Miktus with Ebony (German Shepherd Dog) It is therefore accurate to say that the oldest registry for Therapy Dogs in the United States was started with four German Shepherd Dogs and one Collie.

The requirements for TDI certification were developed by adding additional requirements in addition to the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program. Dogs who pass TDI certification can automatically earn their CGC also if the handler wishes to have such award to their dog's credit. Dogs that pass TDI evaluation and mandatory veterinarian health testing are issued a badge with their name, the handler's name, and issued TDI badge number. Requirements for training for and passing TDI evaluation can be found at the TDI official website at and is open for all breed of dogs including mixed breeds. The current President/CEO of Therapy Dogs International, Inc. is Ursula Kempe, one of the original participants in the program.

The German Shepherd Dog is still a wonderful, versatile breed capable of doing a wide range of activities from mentally soothing therapy dog work to being major schutzhund competition dogs with tons of drive and energy. While the German Shepherd Dog undergoes evolving and changing from decade to decade in small conformation details, the breed is still one of the best, most intelligent & popular breeds in existence. Carefully selecting an ethical breeder with good reputation, high quality breedings, & a genuine love for the breed is a crucial first step in finding a quality German Shepherd puppy or dog. Long live the German Shepherd Dog!

Information concerning Therapy Dogs International, Inc(TDI). was taken from the Associate Member's Guide, Eighth Revised Edition, 2006


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