Service Dog vs. Therapy Dog: What You Need to Know

You’re walking down the street and you see the most adorable dog in the world wearing the cutest little vest. Your first instinct (probably) is to give out all the pets and bellies to the doggo.

Please don’t.

There’s a high chance that this cute dog is actually a fully-trained service dog. As it were, service dogs have a strict “no petting” policy.

How would you know the difference between a service dog, a cute doggo in a vest, and a therapy dog? Well, that’s what we’re breaking down for you today.

Keep on reading for a full breakdown on the service dog vs therapy dog dilemma. In addition, you’ll get to learn the differences between a therapy dog and an emotional support dog.

Service Dog vs Therapy Dog 101

While both dogs tend to wear sickeningly-cute vests and have gone through training, that’s where most of the similarities end.

Let’s take them one at a time.

What Is a Service Dog?

In the simplest of terms, service dogs are working dogs. They’re trained to perform specific tasks to help ease their handlers’ disabilities.

Handlers and their service dogs work together as a team to the benefit of the handlers. Service dogs —basically— raise the quality of life of their handlers, by helping them attain independence and safety.

Remember the “no petting” policy we mentioned earlier? This one applies to service dogs because there’s a high chance that petting them can prevent these dogs from doing their job correctly. That’s why the majority of service dogs are not for petting as per their owners’ desires.

Service Dogs Accompany Their Owners Everywhere

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) grants service dogs the right to go with their owners practically everywhere. Even if a place has a strict “no dogs” policy, they’re obligated by law to allow a service dog and their handler access to their establishment.

It’s illegal to turn folks with disabilities away or refuse them service because they’re accompanied by their service dog. In addition, service dogs can’t be kicked out of a place if there’s another person who’s allergic to dogs or simply scared of them.

Moreover, service dog owners aren’t required by law to provide proof of training or certification when asked for them.

As it were, there’s no national registry for service animals. Therefore, there’s no database for people to check whether specific dogs are legitimate certified service dogs or not.

Furthermore, business owners can ask the owner whether their dog is required for a disability or what specific tasks the dog performs. Yet, they can’t demand documentation or ask about the owner’s disability.

What is a Therapy Dog?

While also receiving training, therapy dogs are a completely different animal than service dogs. Pun totally intended.

Therapy dogs have different types of jobs and responsibilities from service dogs. They provide psychological and physiological therapy to people who aren’t just their handlers.

Therapy dogs are rather friendly, with stable temperaments and easy-going personalities. That’s why you’ll find them visiting public places like schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and colleges.

During their training, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with different people. They’re also trained on how to handle all the petting they get from their adoring public with grace.

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With therapy dogs, petting is not only allowed but encouraged, so feel free to pet them until your hands fall off.

Therapy Dogs’ Roles

Therapy dogs can have a variety of roles. They can help build the confidence of children with learning disabilities to read out loud, as well as actively participate in physical rehabilitation therapy.

You’ll also find that some therapy dogs are trained solely in specific fields, like psychotherapy. As such, they’ll work in certain establishments on an exclusive basis.

Unlike service dogs, most therapy dogs can be trained by anyone. However, in order to be certified, they need to meet set standards to officially become certified therapy dogs.

Differences in Legal Status

Even with humongous amounts of training, certifications, and therapeutic benefits, therapy dogs do not have the same legal designation (and benefits) that service dogs enjoy.

Service dogs are allowed to go with their owners anywhere. Yet, therapy dogs can be allowed in facilities on a case-by-case basis. It depends on the receiving institution, and whether they allow pets on their premises or if they can make exceptions for therapy dogs.

What Are Emotional Support Animals?

Now that we have a solid grasp on the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs, let’s talk about emotional support animals (the majority of which are dogs).

In short, emotional support animals are pets that clinical professionals have recognized as an essential component of a patient’s treatment plan.

Even though emotional support animals tend to have similar jobs to therapy dogs, they’re trained to interact only with one person, their owner.

They help provide their owners with a sense of safety or aid them with navigating social anxieties or phobias. In addition, they’re not always dogs and they’re not required to have specialized training.

Another thing to consider, since emotional support animals aren’t necessarily trained following a set of standards, it’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure that their animal behaves appropriately in public.

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal

In order for one to get a support animal, they must have a verifiable disability. In addition, their treatment plan —set by their doctor— must include interaction with their support animal on a daily basis.

In terms of legality and accessibility, emotional support animals are treated the same as therapy dogs. Therefore, they don’t receive the benefits allocated to service dogs.

Ready to Get a Friend for Life?

We know how hard it can be to see a beautiful fluffy animal and not show it all the love.

Yet, now that you know all about the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs, we hope that you’ll be able to distinguish between them, as well as have the right knowledge about getting the right animal for you.

Wherever you stand on the service dog vs therapy dog spectrum (we love them all), make sure to check out our blog for all the tips and advice you need on dogs and other fluffy animals.

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