What’s the difference between service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs, but what is the difference?
Let’s take a closer look:
The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) is the primary U.S. Federal law that governs service animals. In order to qualify, a service dog needs to have received special training to perform a task or tasks that assist a person with a disability.
Service dogs are the most restricted group of helping animals, and they also enjoy the most protections including the right to accompany their charge wherever they go, including public places and privately-owned venues such as restaurants or retail stores.
For many, the first image that comes to mind when they think of a service dog may be a guide dog for a blind person. However, there are now many other ways in which dogs have been trained to perform specific duties to assist with a wide range of disabilities.
Service dogs responsibilities include:
- Clearing a room of any threats, in support of those suffering from PTSD.
- Keeping track of autistic children, alerting guardians if they wander off, and/or open up valuable opportunities for autistic children to build social connections with other kids.
- Assisting with impaired mobility such as providing a brace for sitting and standing, pulling a wheelchair, or picking up items that have fallen out of reach.
- Helping people who suffer from anxiety.
There are only two animals that can officially be trained and recognized as service animals in the United States. Besides canines, miniature horses trained to perform specific tasks for the disabled are also protected by the ADA.
Emotional support dogs
There is a lot of misconception about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). This rather broad classification of helper animals can include animals of any species and they are not required to perform specific tasks or undergo any special training.
These animals simply provide a sense of comfort and security to their owners who may experience mental health issues such as social anxiety, PTSD, or panic disorders.
Emotional support animals are not protected by the ADA, however, they are protected by two other pieces of federal legislation.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) gives people with emotional support animals protection from discrimination in housing, and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) gives people the right to travel with their emotional support animals on aircraft.
Contrary to some myths in popular culture, because they are not covered by the ADA, ESAs do not have special protection in terms of guaranteed access to public or private spaces like restaurants, bars, or shopping malls. Business owners are well within their rights to deny access to Emotional Support Animals.
A third way that dogs improve our lives through officially recognized service is by participating in therapy dog programs of various kinds. These dogs take on many different roles where the human-canine bond improves the lives of people, usually those living in institutions such as assisted care facilities, special needs homes, nursing homes, or prisons.
Although there are no federal standards for the training of therapy dogs, many local groups and organizations help participants work with their dogs to ensure that they have strong manners, a gentle disposition, and wide exposure to socialization experiences to make sure they stay calm in every situation.
Some therapy dogs seem to have a special knack for connecting with specific populations such as autistic children or the elderly. Increasingly, therapy dogs are being used in rehabilitation programs including mental, social, and physical rehabilitation.
Dogs make life better
The truth is that dog owners already know that their canine companions make life better in any number of ways, whether they hold an official title for their work or not. Why else would we spend countless hours looking for the best dog food or hunting down a replacement for their favorite chew toy?
But beyond their contribution as pets, many canines are changing lives through service.
Whether they are specially trained to help the disabled, provide a special bond to help sooth the stress of daily living, or show up to put a smile on the face of someone feeling isolated in an institutional environment, these special canines deserve a little extra recognition for their duties.
Mat Coulton is the creator of Wiley Pup, a website designed to help you raise an amazing dog.