The Difference Between A Therapy Dog, A Service Dog, and an Emotional Support Dog

  • A service dog helps its owner perform tasks in addition to being a pet.
  • A therapy dog provides comfort and companionship to others and is someone’s pet.
  • An Emotional Support dog provides comfort and companionship to its ‘owner’.

All dogs are very important, but which one is for you will depend on what type of assistance you need or wish to provide. If you are sight-impaired, having a service dog/guide dog will make life easier. Your guide dog can help you around obstacles or even lead you safely across the street.

Therapy dogs are trained by the pet’s owner, in providing emotional support to others. Once approved to act as a therapy dog the pet parent takes his/her dog to sites to provide an ’emotional break’ to people under stressful circumstances. (ie. Nursing homes, hospitals, schools).

An Emotional support dog is ‘your’ dog. A dog that will calm your mind and hopefully lift your spirits. 

If you are acquiring a Trained Emotional Support dog also consider obtaining an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) Letter. Having the proper credentials will come in handy. Special privileges such as air travel, housing, or if you need accommodations in a ‘no dogs-allowed’ building, are available to people with a Emotional Support Animal.

Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
drag bag for paralyzed dog
Walkin’ Drag Bag

Why Consider a Service Dog?

If you are considering a service dog, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Before acquiring a Service Dog, speak with your doctor. Your physician can determine if you are physically capable of handling a dog.
  2. Find a reputable organization or individually certified in the specific service training that will fulfill your needs. This person will teach you how to interact with your trained dog and care for him or her properly.

What Do Therapy Dogs Do?

A therapy dog will visit with his/her pet parent ,a hospital room, nursing facility, school or even a private home. The visit is to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Therapy dogs are beneficial for children with special needs. Children who receive regular visits from therapy dogs report less fear, better self-esteem, and improved social skills.

Some therapy dogs are trained to detect medical emergencies, such as seizures, asthma attacks, and heart problems. In these cases, the dog alerts his handler to take immediate action.

Can My Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

Any breed can be an effective therapy dog when well-trained. Labradors Retrievers are the more common therapy dog. Great Danes, German Shepherds, Saint Bernard’s, Pit Bulls, Mastiffs, and Rottweilers are are naturally gentle and friendly, making choice therapy canines.

Smaller breeds like Shih Tzus, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, and Dachshunds are common therapy dogs, given they are very friendly.

A good therapy dog must be able to perform basic obedience commands. Your dog should walk calmly behind you, lie down, stay put, and come when called.

According to the AKC, “A therapy dog offers comfort and affection to people in a facility setting or to certain individuals who require visitation to deal with a physical or emotional problem. Therapy dogs are not service dogs, who provide a specific service for a person with special needs, and who receive full public access per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are also not emotional support animals, who require a prescription from a mental health or health care professional but need no special training or certifications to do their job.”

Service dogs must meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements set forth, and are also required to wear identification tags, identifying the dog as a service animal.

What Do Service/Guide Dogs Do?

Service dogs help disabled people with physical problems such as blindness, epilepsy, arthritis, and diabetes navigate day-to-day with more confidence and safety.

Guide dogs help sight-impaired people navigate the world and hearing dogs alert hearing impaired people to noises. Service dog help those in wheelchairs or otherwise physically limited. They open doors or cabinets and fetch things their handlers can’t reach.

Autism-assistance dogs are trained to assist those with autism. They are specially trained to detect certain sensory stimuli, and alert their handlers to the ‘alarm’. These service dogs will stand guard over their handlers during seizures and even run for help if needed.

What Rights Do Service Dog Owners Have?

Service dogs are required by law to have full public access. They may accompany their owners anywhere, including restaurants, stores, libraries, and other public spaces. Their presence is an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are also allowed on airplanes, trains, and buses. “Service dogs” are defined as dogs who assist people with disabilities. This includes guide dogs, hearing dogs, seizure alert dogs, mobility assistance dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and others.

Each airline has its own rules about service dogs. Most require the dog to be on the passenger’s lap or at their foot. Dogs cannot block the aisles or sit in the emergency exits. Service dogs are exempt from pet fees.

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