Dogs are amazing creatures, and 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. In fact, 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 from the other.

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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, certified service dog, and therapy dog? People oftentimes confuse these three separate assistance animals by lumping them all together.

Emotional Support Animals is not a Service Dog

Each type of assistance animal has a different level of access and a different way to qualify.

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 they require a letter from a licensed therapist to qualify. They are allowed in airplanes and 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 conditions.

While formal training is not a requirement for emotional support dogs, they should behave well and have certain characteristics. The best emotional support dogs are generally calm and responsive to their owners’ emotions and commands.

Emotional support dogs do not have the same rights to access public places as service dogs. With a doctor’s note, however, they can go with their owners on airplanes. This note also allows you to live with your emotional support animal in housing that typically does not allow pets. Emotional support dogs are generally not welcome in places that serve food.

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.

Certified service dogs are much more than just companions. They go through extensive training to learn 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. When working, service dogs will focus solely on their owners.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, service dogs are trained to work or perform tasks for people who have 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.

Specially 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 everywhere, even in areas where pets generally don’t have access. However, business owners reserve the right to ask that a service pet be removed from the premises. This can happen if the dog is not under the handler’s control or if it is not housebroken.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dog

Therapy dogs provide a therapeutic presence to those in high-stress environments like hospitals and courtrooms. They do not have 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 patients 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 are capable of socializing with many people while they are on-duty.

Therapy dogs do not have any 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. In addition, therapy dogs cannot join their owners on flights for free. Furthermore, they cannot live in housing that does not allow pets.

Select the right Assistance Animal for you

In short, emotional support dogs offer support to their owners through companionship and can fly and live with their owners. On the other hand, service dogs go through special training to help people with disabilities and can go 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. Understanding these differences ensures that all these animals get proper treatment.

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