Dogs are amazing creatures; they give their owners so much more than just companionship. Training enables them to perform a number of tasks to make their owners’ lives easier. They can even learn life-saving skills to help in an emergency. You have likely heard of emotional support dogs, service dogs, and therapy dogs. But do you know the differences between them? These three types of assistance animals have different roles, responsibilities, and rights. Hence, it is important to understand what sets each apart.

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Let’s take a closer look at the differences between emotional support dogs, service dogs, and therapy dogs

Do you know the difference between an emotional support dog, a service dog, and a therapy dog? People often confuse these three separate assistance animals by lumping them all together.

Assistance Animal Types - Service Dog vs Emotional Support Animal vs Therapy Dog

We will discuss the differences between these animals and how you can qualify for each below.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dog
Emotional support dogs are not specially trained but require a letter from a licensed therapist to qualify. They are allowed in no-pets housing.

As the title implies, emotional support dogs give emotional support to their owners. They typically provide comfort and support in the form of companionship and affection. Unlike service dogs and therapy dogs, they don’t need any special training. Their sole job is to offer love and emotional support to people with various emotional and mental health conditions.

While formal training is not a requirement for emotional support dogs, they should be well-behaved and be suited to the owner’s lifestyle.

Emotional support dogs do not have the same rights to access public places as service dogs. Emotional support animals, however are welcome in residential buildings that typically ban pets. ESAs are also exempt from pet fees, pet deposits, and breed/size restrictions.

how to get an esa letter
You can get your ESA letter online. Complete the questionnaire here.

Service Dogs

Service Dog
Service dogs are specially trained to provide a task for their disabled owner. They are allowed anywhere their owner is allowed, including restaurants and stores.

Service dogs are much more than just passive companions. They undergo extensive training to perform tasks that mitigate their handlers’ disabilities. In many cases, they enable their owners to attain safety and independence that their disabilities otherwise make out of reach.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, service dogs are trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. These tasks must directly relate to the handler’s disability. Under the ADA, dogs who only provide emotional support or comfort do not qualify as service animals.

Trained service dogs perform complex tasks such as:

  • Guiding the blind,
  • Alerting deaf people to certain sounds,
  • Opening doors or cupboards for people in wheelchairs,
  • Alerting handlers of impending seizures and
  • Helping veterans during PTSD-related panic attacks.

Service dogs can accompany their human handlers in public areas, even in places where pets generally don’t have access. Service dogs can, however be asked to leave the premises if they are not under the handler’s control or are acting unruly.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dog
Therapy dogs provide a therapeutic presence to those in high-stress environments like hospitals and courtrooms. They do not have general public access rights and must be invited to hospitals, courtrooms, schools, etc.

Therapy dogs generally do not serve just one person. Instead, they are well-trained animals that visit individuals and groups in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities and institutions.

They are usually calm and have a deep love of people. What’s more, some train to work alongside therapists in clinical settings to offer comfort to patients in mental health facilities. Unlike service dogs, who must only focus on their owner, therapy dogs can socialize with many people while on duty.

Therapy dogs do not have more access to public places than regular pets. Prior to entering a nursing home, hospital, or any other facility, the dog’s handler must get permission. Therapy dogs also do not have special housing rights like service animals and ESAs do.

Select the right Assistance Animal for you

In short, emotional support dogs offer support to their owners through companionship and can live with their owners in no-pets buildings. On the other hand, service dogs undergo special training to help people with disabilities and can go almost everywhere with their owners. Finally, therapy dogs are trained to provide affection and comfort to people in facilities like hospitals and nursing homes. Differentiating between emotional support dogs, service dogs, and therapy dogs is not a matter of semantics. It has more to do with their roles, their rights to access certain areas, and the training they must receive. What they have in common is that each of these animals plays a unique role in improving the lives of humans.

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