Difference Between Service Dogs, Therapy Pets, and ESA

Since ancient times, dogs have been seen assisting and interacting with humans in hunting, farming, and protection. These three types of dogs satisfy all the important needs for the benefit of the human being. You cannot use these terms interchangeably because each group has its own definition of specific recognition in terms of their legal rights and the jobs they do.

What are service dogs? What do they do?

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) defines that one type of working dog, service dogs, is specifically trained to help a group of people or simply a person with disabilities to provide them with comfort in their specific needs. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act clarifies that these disabilities can be physical, psychiatric, mental, sensory, or other intellectual disabilities. The duty of service dogs is related to the disability of their owner. There are few services that these dogs can provide. These are given below:

  • Guide dogs with the blind help them in navigation.
  • Dogs that signal or listen with deaf people alert them with sounds such as the phone ringing, the smoke alarm, the alarm clock, the cry of a child, or the door. They paws or nudges to alert their partner.
  • These types of service dogs, i.e., psychiatric dogs, are specifically trained to detect and then lessen the effects caused by the psychiatric episode in psychiatric patients.
  • Service dogs also fulfill their role of helping physically disabled or people who use wheelchairs find things, open and close cabinets and doors and carry items for their partners who cannot.
  • Autism assistance dogs are specially trained to help people with autism. They do their duty by distinguishing necessary sensory signals, such as smoke alarms, from other signals. They can also alert your partner to repeated behaviors or overestimations.
  • A kind of service dog is trained for patients with seizures. They can recognize a stroke, and during a seizure, they can guard you and go for help.

Service Dogs

What Rights Do Service Dogs Have?

The Americans with Disabilities Act made it clear that service dogs can go anywhere with their owner they want to go. Service dogs have access and are allowed to go where animals are prohibited. Their owner can bring them to all public places such as shops, restaurants, and libraries. Even other pets are not allowed in the accommodation, but service dogs must be allowed. This type of dog can travel by public transport, including bus, train, plane, etc. You should know that each airline sets its own rules for service dogs to travel on their planes. Most airlines do not allow these dogs to sit or pass through the aisle in the emergency exit line and require that service dogs sit on the lap or feet of the traveler. Airlines cannot charge the pet travel fee for service dogs.

What is a Working Dog?

Working dogs are trained for a specific purpose to assist and perform the task to work as an aid to their human partners. Working dogs function as detective, search and rescue, hunting, military, and police dogs. They have the excellent ability to smell; their sense of smell is so strong that they help their human companion where they fall short. Some of the functions they perform are:

Search and Rescue

They play a role in searching and rescuing people in different situations ranging from natural disasters to finding missing persons. They perform this function by using a target object scent or a scent in the air to find their target. They are also beneficial for many other situations such as body searches, avalanches, disasters, and drowning situations. The most common breed of dog used for this purpose is a hound.

Explosives Detection 

 These canine partners work with the police, military, and TSA (Transportation Security Administration) have found explosives and other dangerous objects. Dogs that perform this task have to undergo exceptional training that allows them to detect hazardous and explosive items. They alert their handler to know about the presence of such suspicious objects. The most common dog breeds used for this purpose are the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd.

Cancer detection

You won’t believe it, but doctors indeed made it possible through Labrador Retrievers to detect or sniff out cancer in patients. They alert the handler by sniffing the sample and sitting in front of the cancerous person

They do this by smelling a person; cancer cells have a different odor than normal cells and result in a distinct odor on the person’s breath. They alert the handler by pricking their nose when smelling the patient. In one particular case, the laboratory-made an accurate diagnosis of the disease 98% of the time, while commonly used tests found only 10% of the time.

Allergy alert dogs

These dogs are trained to detect allergens and particles in public places like social events, schools, and daily activities. They alert their handler after detecting allergens. They are trained in the same way as police dogs. They do their duty by tracking down drugs or scents. The most common dog breeds used for this purpose are the Portuguese Water Dog and the Poodle Dog.

Usually, working dogs are trained for a specific role in different fields. Often they are not subject to legal consequences. If you have a working dog, do not pet or approach it while he is doing its work, it requires a proper approach without any distraction for its proper functioning.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs play a different role than emotional support animals and service dogs. Therapy dogs are not trained for a specific person; they are basically trained to provide love, affection, and comfort in institutions like schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. They volunteer in clinical settings. They can quickly adapt to a new environment and can easily interact with strangers.

The requirements for therapy dogs are: they must be calm in temperament, comfortable when handled, not disturbed by new sounds and loving people.

Do Therapy Dogs Have Legal Rights?

You will see therapy dogs performing their duties to provide therapeutic environments and comfort to their human companion, but according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they are not included in the group of service dogs. They also do not enjoy the legal rights that the service dog has to access public places. There are no national rules and a uniform state that can certify and regulate these dogs. There are different guidelines from different organizations for therapy dogs. The general rules to use therapy dogs are: they must be authorized, insured, and trained by the institutes that offer such services.

Can My Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

If you want to have a therapy dog ​​or volunteer to turn your dog into a therapy dog, different organizations offer these types of services. There is an organization called the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. They verify the dogs that if they are capable of being therapy dogs, they will inform you about the guidelines you should follow.

The AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program also offers various training programs to organizations. Many therapy dog ​​organizations often require the Canine Good Citizen test.

What Do ESAs (Emotional Support Animals) Do?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), emotional support dogs are not included in the group of service dogs. Since they are not trained to play a specific role, they are prepared to have a particular person help you with your disability. This is considered the main difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog. They help people with psychological disorders, their contribution is not minimized. They help people alleviate anxiety, loneliness, depression, and some phobias, they are generally considered companion pets. A person with a diagnosed emotional or psychological disorder, such as panic attacks, anxiety disorder, and major depression, cannot have an emotional support dog without a mental health professional’s prescription.

What Rights Do Emotional Support Animals Have?

The emotional support animal cannot enjoy legal rights and access to public places such as service dogs. They have limited rights. They require a letter from the owner’s psychiatrist or physician who prescribed ESA. They are not free to go to all public places as service dogs. ESAs are allowed on an aircraft only in one condition if the carrier has a prescription letter from a licensed therapist or physician. The carrier may also have to meet other requirements. Many people are seen abusing the ESA concept, including also passengers on the United Airlines flight who tried to bring an “emotional support peacock” on board. That’s also the reason why airlines are tightening restrictions on ESAs. To continue, we can now wait for other commercial and public places.


Each type of dog is unique in its own way, and it is important to know their specific abilities. However, these different types of dogs can help your pet in specific ways.

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