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  • Courteous K9

Service Dogs vs. Therapy Dogs vs. ESA's

We have started noticing a trend that the terms "Service Dog," "Therapy Dog," and "Emotional Support Animal (ESA)" are being used interchangeably when, in fact, they all mean very different things. Here is a quick rundown on the differences between the three.

Service dog with their handler

Service Dogs:

  • Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities.

  • These tasks could include guiding the blind, alerting the deaf, pulling a wheelchair, reminding a person to take medication, or even detecting an impending seizure.

  • Service dogs are legally permitted to accompany their handlers in public places where pets are not typically allowed, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States and similar laws in other countries.

  • There is no governing body for Service Dogs. There is no official licensing or tests they must pass.

  • Often takes years and years of training.

Therapy Dogs:

  • Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort, affection, and emotional support to people in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster areas.

  • They are not individually trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability like service dogs. Instead, their role is to interact with a variety of people to provide emotional support and promote well-being.

  • Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs do not have the same legal access rights and are only allowed in certain places with permission from the establishment or organization hosting them.

  • Most often, there is some sort of test that the dog and handler must pass in order to be an official Therapy Dog team.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs):

  • ESAs provide companionship, comfort, and emotional support to individuals with mental health conditions or emotional disabilities.

  • Unlike service dogs, ESAs are not required to undergo specific training to perform tasks. Their presence alone is considered therapeutic for their owners.

  • ESAs are typically prescribed by a licensed mental health professional as part of a treatment plan for conditions such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.

  • While ESAs have certain housing and travel rights under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) in the United States, they do not have the same public access rights as service dogs.

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