Service Therapy Emotional Support Dogs

Service, Therapy and Emotional Support Dogs…Do you know the difference?

How many of us use those terms interchangeably? Let’s look at the differences between the three types.

A SERVICE DOG is trained to help people with disabilities such as mental illness, visual impairment, diabetes, seizures, etc. There are two types: dogs to assist with physical impairment and mental disability.

According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), service animals are defined as follows: “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.

Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

A THERAPY DOG is trained to provide comfort and affection to patients in hospice, retirement homes, hospitals, schools, and more. Spending time with a therapy dog has been shown to reduce anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate and in addition, can increase endorphins and oxytocin. Therapy dogs do NOT have to be trained to perform tasks like a service dog.

Can your dog become a therapy dog? Well, we’d all like to believe our dog is a candidate, but not always true. Therapy dogs should naturally be calm, friendly and affectionate to all strangers. They should be groomed properly, and have regular health checkups. Depending on where you may take your therapy dog, you may not have to certify them, but, if you’d like to apply for a certification, there are several agencies to do so…the AKC (American Kennel Club) is always recommended. For information on how to apply for a therapy dog title and application, visit Therapy Dog Title through AKC.

An EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMAL (ESA) provides a therapeutic benefit to the owner through companionship and a calming presence. There is no formal training for an emotional support dog. An ESA should be devoted to its owner, be responsive to your emotions and commands, and be calm and laid back.

ESA’s do not have access to all public areas, and the definition and criteria has changed over the years. You used to be able to fly in the cabin with documentation, but in December 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it will no longer consider ESAs special assistance animals for travelers. Airlines are now able to set their own individual guidelines and most only allow trained service animals.

If you would like to register your dog/animal to be an Emotional Support Animal, visit the following website for more information Emotional Support Animal Registration.