Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Dogs vs Therapy Dogs

I wanted to take a few minutes to share the differences between a service dog, emotional support dog and a therapy dog. Each of them serves a purpose and each of them has requirements for their role.

Service dogs perform tasks for a person with a disability. These dogs are task trained and spend many months training to assist their person. Even though your dog may do some of the tasks for you, they need to go through training to do these tasks under distraction, in a variety of environments and each and every time.  The training takes many repetitions to make sure the dog responds each time. It is important that dogs trained for this type of work are consistent-it may be life or death for the person they are assisting. Some examples include diabetic alert training, guide dogs, seizure alert training and mobility assistance training. There are many stages of evaluations for service dogs. Many trainers will evaluate a litter at 4-6 weeks old and then many organizations have puppy raisers for at least a year with quarterly training reports during that year, and then once the dogs are returned to the organization the dogs undergo health, temperament and ability training before starting task training. Service dogs need to have an excellent temperament, be structurally sound and have a willingness to work.

There are also psychiatric service dogs that are trained to do certain jobs that help their owner cope with a mental illness. For example, the dog might remind a person to take prescribed medications, keep a disoriented person from wandering into traffic, or perform room searches for a person with post-traumatic stress disorder. However, your dog’s presence alone is not enough to qualify them as a service dog.

I recommend people contact medical mutts in Indianapolis if they are interested in service dog training. Medical mutts can assess your current dog and work with you to train your dog or if your dog doesn’t have what it takes for service dog work, they can help you find and train a dog to meet your needs. Service dogs are allowed in public and are not required to wear vests or identification. If you are in public, businesses have the right to ask you two questions. 1) is your dog a service dog and 2) what tasks has it been trained to perform for you. You do not need to provide a letter from your doctor, vaccination records and you do not have to disclose what your disability is. Sometimes it is important to educate businesses if they ask questions that are not allowed. That being said, your dog cannot be disruptive or interfere with another customer either. If that happens, businesses do have the right to ask you to leave.

When you are in public and see someone with a service dog, please don’t distract them by talking, whistling, touching, using baby talk, crowding or barking at them. They are performing a vital and possibly life-saving service for their owner and don’t need to be distracted.  The best thing you can do is politely leave them alone. Many times, they want to perform a quick errand and have a schedule to keep. They don’t want to answer questions about their disability, training or how to get a dog for themselves.  If a service dogs comes up to you without their person, it means that their person has fallen or needs assistance and have the dog lead you back to them with help.

Emotional Support dogs do not need any specialized training, but a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist must determine that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient. For example, owning a pet might ease a person’s anxiety or give him a focus in life.
Emotional Support dogs (ESAs) do have certain rights in terms of housing and air travel. The Fair Housing Act includes ESAs in its definition of assistance animals. Under the act, people cannot be discriminated against due to a disability when obtaining housing. Therefore, rules such as no pets, species bans, or pet-size limitations do not apply to people who have a prescription for an ESA, and they cannot be charged a pet deposit for having their ESA live with them.
The Air Carrier Access Act allows service animals and ESAs to accompany their handler in the cabin of an aircraft. The airline might require documentation stating that the person has a disability and the reason why the animal must travel with them. If you intend to travel with an ESA, contact the airline ahead of time to ensure you can provide the appropriate paperwork.
Using an ESA just to get an apartment or ride in the cabin with your pet is against the law and provides a disservice to those who truly need an ESA with a legitimate need.

Therapy dogs provides comfort to children in schools and libraries and residents in nursing homes and hospitals. They can be used in any place where petting a therapy dogs can provide stress release, laughter and happiness. Therapy dogs need to have an excellent temperament and be certified by an organization. People need to research to find the best therapy dog organization to meet their needs. Some examples include Love on a Leash, Pet Partners, Therapy Dog International, Therapy Dog Incorporated, etc.  The owners need to have an outgoing personality to share their companion with others, good listening skills, be empathetic, strike up conversations and enjoy the people they visit with. You also want to find the right environment for your dog. For example, my dog Sandy loved to visit residents at Westminster Village. That was her place. She loved the staff, putting her bandana on each week and letting residents pet her each time we went. Shelby and Ranger loved having the elementary school kids read to them. Their eyes lit up each time we walked into the school and I loved their interactions with the children. Something important to note: Most therapy dog organizations only allow you to be a member of one organization.

We hope this information was helpful and helps you use the correct terminology when requesting information for training.