The Please Don't Pet Me header, multiple service dogs .




PDPM > About Service Dogs > The Differences Between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals...


The Differences Between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals


Differentiating between, service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals is not a matter of splitting hairs or political correctness.  Each of these dogs has a very different job from the others and the terms are not interchangeable.  


While we appreciate the invaluable role that therapy dogs play in society and the crucial impact that emotional support animals have on the lives of their disabled owners, Please Don’t Pet Me is dedicated to promoting understanding and respect for service dog teams.  In the spirit of doing so, we hope to reduce the prevalent confusion about the differences between these three roles.


Service Dogs

Service Dogs are individually trained to perform tasks and do work that mitigate their handlers’ disabilities.  Service dogs are much more than highly trained companions. Working as part of a team with their disabled partners, service dogs help them attain the safety and independence from which their handlers’ disabilities would otherwise limit them.  



Pictured above is Service Dog Ivy, who was trained by Canine Partners for Life in Cochranville, PA.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs in public places, like businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, etc.  Additional acts of law, like the DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act, DOJ/HUD Fair Housing Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act protect the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals under a wide variety of circumstances under which the ADA may not be applicable.


Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dogs also receive extensive training but have a completely different type of job from service dogs. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers; who are usually their owners.  These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit various institutions like hospitals, schools, hospices, psychotherapy offices, nursing homes and more.  Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with a variety of people while they’re on-duty.



Touche' is an American Pit Bull Terrier who works as a therapy dog. In reference to this picture, her owner says, "She had just finished listening to a 9 year old read her a book about summer safety. LOL She prefers K-9 love stories. I think Touche' is ready for a nap now. She's all pooped out from the attention because not only was she a "reading specialist" today, but she also visited with all the library staff and many of the patrons. This is just one of the places she works. Touche's main job is at a hos"pit"al where she makes rounds."


Somewhat similar to service dogs, therapy dogs can have a variety of jobs.  While most people are familiar with therapy dogs who visit places like hospitals, nursing homes and hospices to provide emotional therapy, these are not the only environments in which therapy dogs can be beneficial.  Therapy dogs may also visit schools, day cares, group homes and rehabilitation centers.  Their roles vary, from dogs who give learning disabled children the confidence to read out loud to actively participating in physical rehabilitation therapy. In some cases, a therapy dog will work in a particular establishment exclusively, like a psychotherapy practice.  


Therapy dogs may be trained by just about anyone, but must meet the standards set by a particular organization to be certified and actively participate within the respective organization.  They are usually handled by their owners, but in some cases of Animal Assisted Therapy, the therapy dog may be handled by a trained professional.


It is important to note that, despite thorough training, certification and the therapeutic benefits therapy dogs provide, they do not have the same jobs or legal designation as service dogs.  While some institutions offer therapy dogs access on a case by case for the benefit of patients, guests, customers or clientele, the handlers or owners of therapy dogs do not have the same rights to be accompanied by these dogs in places where pets are not permitted.


*Did You Know?*

Many service dogs are also certified, active therapy dogs!  



Service Dog Onyx is also a therapy dog. In the words of Onyx's owner, "Onyx has lots of love to share!"


Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals are not required to undergo specialized training.  Their primary roles are to provide their disabled owners with emotional comfort.  Emotional support animals can benefit a disabled individual, psychologically, tremendously.  The seemingly basic gift of companionship and unconditional affection can be just the right therapy to counter a condition like debilitating depression.


While the ADA does not grant owners of emotional support animals the right to be accompanied by these animals in establishments that do not permit pets, the DOJ/HUD’s Fair Housing Act does allow for disabled owners of emotional support animals to reside in housing that has a “No Pets” policy, as a reasonable accommodation.  The DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act also allows those with proof of a disability the accommodation of being accompanied by an emotional support animal.  



Please see the table below for a basic break-down of the differences between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals.



Characteristics

Service Dog

Therapy Dog

Emotional Support Animal

Handlers’ rights to be accompanied by these dogs in establishments open to the public are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

X



Dogs must be temperamentally sound to tolerate a wide variety of experiences, environments and people.

X

X


These dogs may live with their disabled owners in housing with a “no-pets” policy in place.

X


X

Dogs visit hospitals, schools, hospices and other institutions to aid in psychological or physical therapy.  


X


Handlers encourage these dogs to accept petting and socialize with other people while they’re on-duty.


X


Dogs are individually trained to perform tasks or do work to mitigate their handlers’ disabilities.

X



Petting, talking to or otherwise distracting these dogs can interfere with their job and pose a serious danger to the dog and handler.

X



Dogs’ primary functions are to provide emotional support, through companionship, to their disabled owners.



X

Subject to state laws regarding dog licensing and vaccination.

X

X

X

These dogs enjoy plenty of  off-duty time, during which they rest, take part in fun activities and get to act like a regular, pet dog.

X

X

X




The Please Don't Pet Me footer, multiple service dogs .