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The Differences between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs

The Differences between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs


Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and Emotional Support Dogs are NOT the same.  They are vastly different and the terms "Service Dog", "Therapy Dog", and ESA (emotional support animal) should NOT be interchanged with one another.  Federal Law states that a Service Animal is NOT a pet. 



 Service Dogs

Service Dogs are individually trained to perform tasks and do work that alleviate their handlers’ disabilities.  Service dogs are much more than highly trained companions, they work as part of a team with their disabled partners to help them attain a safe and independent lifestyle which their disabilities would otherwise limit them. 


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, retirement homes, mental institutions, and disaster areas.  Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with a variety of people while they’re on-duty.


Handlers of Therapy Dogs do NOT have the same rights as the handler of a Service Dog.  The handler of a Service Animal is protected under the ADA due to the individual's disability.  This is a VERY IMPORTANT distinction.  It should be understood that it is the DISABLED HANDLER that has rights under the ADA and not the dog.  The Service Dog is allowed access solely because of the rights of the individual.


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 tremendously benefit a disabled individual psychologically.  By giving such a basic gift of companionship and unconditional affection and love, it can be just the right therapy to counter a condition like debilitating depression or anxiety.

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. The DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act also allows those with proof of a disability to be accompanied by an emotional support animal.  


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