Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Dog vs. Therapy Dog: Understanding the Difference Between Each Classification

Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Dog vs. Therapy Dog: Understanding the Difference Between Each Classification

Aug 15th 2019

Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Dog vs. Therapy Dog: Understanding the Difference Between Each 

Animals, especially dogs, have been helping humans for hundreds and even thousands of years. Service, therapy and emotional support dogs are vital in aiding people with physical, intellectual, sensory, psychiatric and mental disabilities. But often, people will use the terms “therapy dog,” “service dog” and “emotional support dog” interchangeably, when in fact, they are three very different terms.

To understand the difference between service, therapy and emotional support dogs, you have to first learn the definition and distinction of each classification. Keep reading to learn more about these dogs, their jobs and their legal rights.

What is a Service Dog?

A service dog has been specially trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. These tasks are directly related to the person’s disability and aid in them attaining safety and independence. Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and various local governments, service dogs are working animals and not pets.

According to the law, service dogs are allowed into businesses and public facilities. It is illegal for someone to ask about the owner’s disability. But it is also illegal to pretend to be disabled to gain access to an area or to get your pet into a business. Establishment owners can ask if your dog is required due to a disability and can inquire as to the various tasks your dog can perform. It’s important to note that employees and passersby should not attempt to pet service dogs as most owners have a “no petting” policy in place.

Required Training

While the ADA does not require formal training, it is required that a service dog know various verbal commands and hand signals, as well as to be obedient when out in public. They also must be housebroken and trained to complete tasks that the disabled owner isn’t able to complete themselves.

When training your service dog, be sure to document the dates and accomplishments. This can offer validation if your service dog is ever challenged. It is important to note that if you have a psychiatric service dog, a doctor’s note may be needed in some public areas or for air travel.

Suggested Equipment

Per the ADA, a service dog is not required to wear a vest, ID tag or a specific harness. However, it’s suggested that a service dog be harnessed, tethered or leashed when out in public. There are exceptions, for example, if the equipment interferes with the dog’s work or the owner’s disability. But in general, service dog equipment, like vests, harnesses and collars, can be worn when out in public.

What is a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog provides therapeutic contact and relief for people in a clinical setting and is often used as part of a medical treatment plan. These animals help to improve cognitive, emotional, physical and social functions. Despite the benefits that therapy dogs provide, they do not have the same job as service dogs and thus don’t have the same legal designation or access.

Typically, therapy dogs are handled by their owner, but in some instances, they can be handled by a trained professional. Therapy dogs may regularly visit daycares, group homes, hospices, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and schools. It’s important to note that some therapy dogs may work exclusively at an establishment.

Keep in mind that since therapy dogs are not limited to working with people with disabilities, they’re not covered by the same federal laws that protect the use of service animals. A therapy dog must have permission from an establishment to enter.

Suggested Training

Therapy dogs don’t have to be certified or trained to perform specific tasks. However, they should go through obedience training and possibly therapy dog classes if needed. In these classes, your dog will learn to be comfortable with new environments and different people. Consider socializing your dog and registering them with a national therapy dog organization. Understand that some places do require therapy dogs to have gone through the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) training through the American Kennel Club (AKC).

It’s important to understand that not all dogs are a good fit for therapy. A therapy dog should be naturally calm, affectionate and friendly around strangers. Your dog should also not react to unfamiliar noises and movements.

Suggested Equipment

A therapy dog is not legally required to wear any equipment. Despite this, a therapy dog vest can be useful in identifying your dog as a therapy animal while in public. It’s also smart to have a harness, collar, leash, and halter or headcollar on-hand just in case.

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support dog provides companionship and therapeutic benefits, aiding those with a diagnosed psychological or emotional disorder, like anxiety, depression or certain phobias. While not considered service dogs, emotional support dogs do require a letter of diagnosis from the owner’s doctor or psychiatrist.

While emotional support dogs don’t have ADA public access, the Fair Housing Act allows for reasonable accommodations for emotional support dogs in buildings that don’t allow pets.

Suggested Training

Emotional support dogs don’t require formal training. While they can be trained for a specific owner, they aren’t usually trained for specific duties or tasks. Despite this, it’s always a good idea to put your dog through obedience training to make sure it’s well-behaved when traveling.

An emotional support dog, in general, should be devoted to its owner and responsive to emotions and commands. A calm, easy-going demeanor is ideal for an emotional support dog.

Suggested Equipment

There’s currently no law requiring an emotional support dog to wear specific equipment nor a need for equipment since these dogs do not have ADA acess rights.

Shop Active Dogs for Training Aids and Equipment

At Active Dogs, we know how important it is to know the difference between a service dog vs. an emotional support dog vs. a therapy dog. It’s why we’re committed to providing our customers with affordable, high-quality training aids and equipment for each type of dog. Browse our extensive selection of service dog vests, dog collars and leads, service dog tags and more. Have a question or need more information about what your dog might need? Reach out today.