SERVICE DOG, THERAPY DOG, EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?


We’ve all come across vest-wearing guide dogs, but many other “dogs with jobs” don’t wear distinguishing duds. Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals may or may not be formally trained to perform specific tasks the way Service Dogs are, but they help make life so much better for so many humans!    

Service Dogs help their humans navigate day-to-day life, which is more challenging because of severe allergies, missing limbs, debilitating anxiety or other disabilities. Allergy dogs are trained to be uber-sensitive to life-threatening substances, diabetic-alert dogs sniff out dangerously low blood sugar levels. Mobility support dogs must be big and strong enough to carry the weight of a human in the event of fainting or a slip and fall; medic-alert dogs predict seizures and spring into action before or after they happen.

Service Dog training can cost tens of thousands of dollars and comprise hundreds of hours before a pup is assigned to a human in need.

Because Service Dogs are “not just pets”, they can enter restaurants, stores, theatres, offices or any other typically off-limits spaces where their humans need to be.

The reasons so many Labs and Golden Retrievers become Service Dogs are because they are typically friendly, people-oriented, highly trainable and neither dominant nor submissive. Size, temperament and trainability matter. Too small and a pup won’t be able provide the physical assistance a human might need; too big and they won’t be able to fit under a restaurant table or on the floor of a bus aisle.

Therapy Dogs must not only be friendly, gentle, obedient and unflappable in unpredictable and unexpected environments, they must also be comfortable around other animals and enjoy being touched by strangers. Any size and breed of dog can become a therapy dog—they can be as small as a chihuahua or as large as a German Shepherd. They can be purebreds, hybrids or Heinz 57’s.

As mentioned, Therapy Dogs may or may not be formally trained; many help just by “being there” for emotionally, mentally and physically challenged humans. While therapy dogs make it easier for humans to navigate the world, they do not quality as Service Dogs under the law. That means they are not permitted in retail establishments or other places where animals aren’t allowed.

Dogs may be the most typical type of Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), but cats, rabbits and guinea pigs can also be ESAs. Basically, any animal that provides comfort and reassurance qualifies.

Whether they’re sniffing out disease, helping the disabled live more independently, soothing a soldier or calming an autistic child, Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs provide the comfort, confidence and unconditional love their humans need to live life to the fullest!