Dogs can be trusted, loyal companions that provide therapy assistance that goes beyond being a beloved pet. Dogs can also be a source of support that provides a level of comfort to enhance one’s ability to live more independently and navigate the world more freely. However, there are three distinct therapy dog types: therapy dogs, service dogs, and emotional support dogs. If you’re considering bringing a dog into your life for a certain therapeutic purpose, it’s important to understand the difference between the three.
While a service dog and its handler have a distinct bond they form with each other, service dogs are considered working dogs more so than pets. The ADA defines a service animal as a dog – regardless of breed or type – that is “trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability including a physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
A service dog must go through an evaluation process and pass rigorous training before being certified. The dog must prove that it can remain focused, quiet, dutiful, and behaviorally stable in a wide range of environments. A service dog must also demonstrate that they are capable of doing specialized tasks that their handler is unable to perform without assistance.
Service dogs have full public access rights and can go into places where other animals aren’t allowed such as restaurants, workplaces, stores, and public transportation.
A therapy dog can be identified as a dog used to provide emotional support to an individual, or individuals in a variety of settings. These dogs typically make organized visits to hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, workplaces, and other venues to provide stress relief and palliative comfort.
While most therapy dogs go through a training evaluation or certification process to ensure they have the obedience and disposition expected during visits, it is not always required.
Therapy dogs are not considered service dogs under the guidelines of the ADA and do not have the same legal access to many public areas as do service dogs.
Emotional Support Dogs
An emotional support dog (also called an emotional support animal – ESA) provides emotional assistance to help their owner manage challenges that can compromise their quality of life. Emotional support dogs are used for companionship, comfort and to ease the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and certain phobias that their owner may suffer.
Because the ADA defines service dogs as “dogs that are individually (and specifically) trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities”, dogs that simply provide emotional comfort do not qualify as service animals.
With exception, under the protection of the federal Fair Housing Act that includes ESAs in their definition of assistance animals, emotional support dogs are not recognized as service dogs and have no legal access to public places.
Which Therapy Dog is Best for You?
Before identifying which dog is appropriate for you, it’s important to understand the ADA definition of a person with a disability: “a person with physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history of such impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having an impairment”.
While all three types of dogs may provide comfort and a form of assistance, there’s a distinction between true physical, psychological, and/or mental conditions that meet the ADA definition for a service dog versus the need for the more general emotional support of a therapy or emotional support dog. Therefore, in deciding which therapy dog type is best for you, consider the following factors.
The Role of a Service Dog
Service dogs are NOT considered pets, as they are provided to individuals who require specific support aligning with their disability needs. A service dog is specifically trained to assist their handler in performing tasks they have difficulty performing on their own. This can include guiding someone who is blind, pushing a wheelchair, reminding a person with mental illness to take their medication, warning of an oncoming seizure, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), opening doors, and more.
Below is a list of disabilities that may qualify for a service dog:
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Stroke Diabetes
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Chronic Pain
- And more…
- Trauma and Stress Related Disorders (i.e. PTSD)
- Bi-polar Disorder
- Schizophrenia and Psychotic Disorders
- Severe Anxiety Disorders and Phobias
- Addiction, Substance Abuse, and Alcoholism
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- And more…
The Role of a Therapy Dog
The therapy dog and its owner are considered a team that arrange to make structured visits to places such as hospitals, schools, assisted living facilities, and workplaces with the goal of providing soothing, comforting interaction. Whereas service dogs are trained to connect directly with their handler, therapy dogs are trained and encouraged to engage and work with a wide variety of people. A therapy dog visit creates positive and uplifting exchanges with the people in which they engage. They can brighten an elderly person’s mood, encourage reluctant young readers to feel comfortable by reading to the dog, help de-stress students during exam week, and lighten the mood in a workplace.
The Role of an Emotional Support Dog
There is a common misconception that one’s pet can be called a service dog merely because a person experiences symptoms similar to anxiety, depression, social discomfort. While their dog helps alleviate these feelings through emotional support, this doesn’t extend to having legal access to bring their dog with them into stores, on airplanes, or into other public areas. With the exception of obtaining an emotional support dog prescription when applying for housing to waive the ‘no pets allowed’ restriction, there are defined legal limitations to bringing one’s pet with them wherever they go.
By understanding the differences between a service dog, therapy dog, and emotional support dog, you can determine the best therapy dog type for you and your needs.
UDS Service Dog Program: We don’t just provide service dogs; we provide independence.
If you feel you may qualify for a service dog, or want to find out more about service dogs, visit our UDS Service Dog Program. UDS expert will assess your needs, do a consultation, and obtain cost estimates,
The UDS team is one of the leading human service providers in Pennsylvania. If you’re in Lancaster, PA or counties surrounding the South Central Pennsylvania areas, contact us today.