Service Dogs, Working Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs: What’s the Difference?

Service ESA dogs

Today’s video breaks down the difference in service dogs, working dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support dogs.

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion going around regarding the differences here and I get it, all dogs are wonderful and deserve the best of everything … but we also have laws here in the U.S. and I get that people are allergic and no one wants dog hair in their food at a restaurant.

So, let’s talk about the differences.

Service Dogs

The ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) defines service dogs as “service dogs are individually trained to perform specific tasks and to work with people with disabilities. According to the ADA, disabilities can be physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.

The work of the service dog must be directly related to the handler’s disability. “

Some of the tasks that service dogs perform include, according to the AKC: dogs help blind people navigate in the world.

  • Hearing (or signal) dogs alert deaf people to sounds, such as a knock on the door or a person entering the room.
  • Guide dogs help blind people navigate in the world.
  • Psychiatric dogs are trained to detect and lessen the effects of a psychiatric episode.
  • Service dogs help those in wheelchairs or who are otherwise physically limited. They may open doors or cabinets, fetch things their handler can’t reach and carry items for their handler.
  • Autism assistance dogs are trained to help those on the autism spectrum to distinguish important sensory signals, such as a smoke alarm, from other sensory input. They may also alert their handler to repetitive behaviors or overstimulation.
  • Service dogs are trained to recognize seizures and will stand guard over their handler during a seizure or go for help.

The ADA gives service dogs full rights and access to any public place that their owner or handler can go, but airlines do have their own guidelines so make sure to check before booking a flight.

Working Dogs

Working dogs are trained to perform a specific task alongside humans, usually, one that utilizes their incredible sense of smell.

Examples of some of the jobs that working dogs perform are:

  • Search & Rescue – These dogs use a scent to find the person they are looking for. Sometimes this is in natural disaster situations, possibly kidnapping situations, finding fugitives, or other disasters.
  • Explosives Detection – These dogs might work with the military, TSA, or other law enforcement to detect dangerous materials.
  • Cancer Detection – These dogs are highly trained to detect the smell of cancerous cells within the body. Amazing!

While working dogs do not have any specific rights assigned to them, they are generally allowed anywhere necessary to accompany their handler while working.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs generally have a very calm demeanor and work in places like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. These dogs are comfortable around all types of people and in all types of places. Therapy dogs generally provide comfort, love, and affection to people who need it.

While therapy dogs are performing an important job, they also do not have legal rights like service dogs do. The exception is that therapy dogs are often certified to be able to do their jobs at a certain place, a hospital for instance. The therapy dog, along with their handler, will be allowed into the place they are certified while other pets may not be allowed.

Emotional Support Dogs (ESA)

ESA’s are relatively new to the list and therefore have caused some controversy. Emotional Support Animals do not have any formal training but instead are prescribed to a person through their licensed mental health specialist.

An ESA can be trained, but it is not a requirement and therefore they do not have the same rights under the ADA.

For many years ESA’s had both housing and air travel rights, meaning that a person with a prescribed ESA could house their ESA without question and they could also fly onboard with their owner. As of January 2021, the rules for air travel have been changed and many airlines have stopped accepting ESAs. Some may still accommodate ESA’s so check with the airline before booking your flight.

I hope that helps clear things up a bit! Do you have experience with any of these types of dogs (or other animals)? Let me know in the comments!

You can also check out the video here:

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