Sometimes behavior is learned and other times it’s in the genes. For Axel, a 4 year-year-old, 110 pound Rottweiler, who was named AKC’s 2022 therapy dog of the year in its annual Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence, his handler John Hunt noticed at just 9 weeks old, how calm his demeanor was while interacting with others, but how engaging and confident he carried himself. Paired with a need to please and a noticeable ability to problem solve and lead others, Axel was a natural.

What characteristics do therapy dogs have

Therapy dogs typically show:

  • Calm demeanor
  • Engaging personality
  • Confident
  • Calm and handler-focused around other dogs
  • Ability to problem solve
  • Eagerness to please
  • Ability to relax when not working
  • Enjoy the attention of new people
  • Properly display stress signals

What type of work does Axel do

Axel is a Crisis Response Canine Operation Deployment K9 and provides weekly support to local healthcare workers in large hospitals in New Jersey, where he and John live, and Pennsylvania. He also does comfort visits to police, fire and other first responders and is called onsite, along with John, to start the decompression process after a traumatic event.

John has gone through extensive training himself, including mental health courses and a K9 Body Language, First Aid and CPR program to make sure he can keep Axel safe on the job.

During his therapy career, Axel has completed more than 600 therapy dog visits, earning his AKC Therapy Dog Supreme title and has traveled around the country to provide support after large-scale tragedies.

“He is like a big teddy bear,” says Andrea Hering, founder and president of Crisis Response Canines, a New Jersey-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that certifies, trains and deploys dogs in traumatic situations. “Even people afraid of dogs are usually taking pictures with him at the end of the visit.”

Crisis response dog off duty

Off duty, Axel is a typical dog, explains Andrea, “playful, energetic, silly.” But when he’s working, “Axel is so confident in his job that other dogs follow his lead. He serves as a role model for our other therapy dogs.”

Of course, part of the job is the after work treat. Axel’s preference? Mints and a good belly rub. 

Follow Axel works on social media @CrisisCanines or visit

Lauren Katims, Executive Editor Dogster

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