Service animals are commonplace in today’s world, but they are not interchangeable in their jobs. You may have heard of a few including therapy dogs, emotional assistance dogs, and service dogs. But what are the differences between them? How do they help? And why are some allowed in stores and others not?


What is a Therapy Dog? 

A therapy dog is a dog that travels to various locations to help provide emotional support to sick or lonely patients. They help by cuddling, snuggling and interacting with people to help raise morale and entertain. Therapy dogs don’t just work in hospital settings. They also visit nursing or assisted living homes, or help children learn to read in libraries. A therapy dog does not perform a specific function or task to help a disabled individual. Therapy dogs are also not permitted in areas where only service dogs are allowed. 


What is an Emotional Support Animal? 

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are dogs (or other animals) trained to provide emotional support. They are trained to help calm an owner down during an episode of anxiety or panic, or may just provide companionship in stressful situations. ESA dogs are increasing in popularity with people and are very effective. However, there is some issue with people treating ESA dogs as service dogs, which they are not. While some places may allow ESA animals, they do not have the same protection as a service dog in most cases.


What is a Service Dog? 

A service dog is a dog trained to perform various tasks to help assist someone with a disability. They can alert deaf people to noises or objects, or guide blind people around obstacles. They also help disabled people pick up and get needed objects. Service dogs are usually specially trained by a professional. However, many states do not have set rules or regulations regarding what is considered a service animal.

Service animals are also allowed into most places of business and are protected under American Disability Act (ADA) law unlike therapy or emotional assistance animals.


Which is Right For Me? 

You may be wondering if your dog should become a therapy or service animal. The answer is that depends. With a physical disability, a service dog may be beneficial in making life easier. For those that suffer from severe anxiety, an emotional assistance dog may be helpful. If you have a dog with a sweet demeanor that loves everyone, signing up to become a therapy dog may be a great choice.

If you’re unsure whether your own dog is a good candidate, or you want to learn more, talking with a trainer is best. Many trainers can point you in the right direction, either through therapy dog training classes (usually involving canine good citizen and other courses) or by providing information and literature about service animal training in your area.

Not every dog is a great candidate to become a service animal, and that’s OK. With lots of love and training, your own dog can still be a wonderful pet and companion, which may be just what you need!


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