What’s The Difference Between a Therapy Dog, Emotional Support Dog and a Service Dog?

Do you know the difference between a therapy dog, an emotional support dog, and a service dog? If you don’t, don’t feel bad. Not many people are aware of the differences among them.

Each of these dogs has a unique role and serves a different purpose than the others.

Therapy Dog

A therapy dog is often used in hospitals, hospice, retirement homes, nursing homes, and schools.  Their role is to provide affection and comfort to the people they visit.

Therapy dogs make people feel good. It’s a fact! The simple presence of a pet can increase endorphins and oxytocin. They can help lower people’s heart rate and blood pressure, too.

Therapy dogs, unlike service dogs, are not trained for any specific task. Therapy dogs are pets that are certified to join clinical settings for the purpose of comfort.

To learn more about having your dog become a therapy dog visit Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

Emotional Support Dog

An emotional support dog provides therapeutic benefits to their person via comfort and companionship. They are not afforded the same access to public areas like service dogs do. They are protected under the law that those with emotional support dogs are provided.

With a letter from a physician, an emotional support dog may fly on planes with their person that may be suffering from a psychological or otherwise emotional disability.

These dogs may also qualify for “no pet housing” as mandated by the Fair Housing Act. Emotional Support Dogs do not require specific training. It is recommended, however, that an emotional support dog be well trained and be of a breed that is comfortable around people.

Service Dog

A service dog provides a service to their human. The service dog is specifically trained to serve a person with a disability in one or more specific ways. These dogs are not pets as designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

They are dogs that have a job and have been trained to perform certain duties. Some service dogs can be mobility support dogs, hearing dogs, medical alert dogs, autism assistance dogs, serve allergy alert dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure response dogs and more.

Each of these service dogs has a job. For example, a seizure response dog may get medicine while their handler is having a seizure, call 911 or get the attention of another person to help.

Similarly, a hearing dog is trained to alert the deaf handler to sounds. Whether it’s the doorbell, phones or honking horns, a hearing dog steps in to be “the ears” of his handler.

Hopefully, we have made it a little more clear about the differences between a therapy dog, an emotional support dog, and a service dog.  Each dog has a unique purpose or role to the human they serve.

Each dog may or may not have certain protections under the law and may not always serve a person with a visible disability.

It’s always important to refrain from judgment when it appears “there’s nothing wrong” with a person with one of these dogs. You should also always ask a dog’s handler before approaching a dog because the dog may be “on the job”.



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