Service, Therapy, and Emotional Support Dogs – Oh My!

If you have ever wondered what the difference is between service, therapy, and emotional support dogs are, look no further! We reached out to Elissa Weimer of Paw & Order Dog Training to understand the differences between the three, and who would benefit from having one. Read on to see if you would, too.

Service Dogs 

“Service dogs are trained specifically to perform medical tasks to assist a specific disabled person,” said Weimer via email, continuing by saying “The tasks must be specific to the individual’s disabilities.” These kinds of disabilities could include those who are visually or hearing impaired, diabetic, or have seizure disorders. 

It is important to note that these dogs should not be petted by others while in public. “Think of a service dog as a piece of medical equipment,” Weimer said. Oftentimes, service dogs can be easily identified by a jacket, although she wareds ‘’you will find fake service dog vests and certificates online, but they are not legitimate.” 

If you or someone you know is interested in obtaining a service dog, Weimer recommends doing your research. “There are no actual universal training standards for service dogs,” she said, but that “there are many great organizations that specialize in training service dogs.” These dogs can be trained to “pick up objects, open doors, get a phone when owner needs to call for help, guide a vision impaired owner through crowds, alert an owner when he/she has low or high blood sugar, [and] pull a wheelchair,” though there are many more they can be trained to do, depending on the owner’s specific needs. 

Therapy Dogs 

“Therapy dogs are dogs used to help other people (not the handler) feel better in stressful situations,” Weimer explained. These are the types of dogs you may see in hospitals, assisted living homes, school campuses, and even libraries. Unlike service dogs, “therapy Dog teams must have passed their CGC (Canine Good Citizen), as well as a Therapy Dog Evaluation administered by a qualified Therapy Dog Evaluator from specific Therapy Dog Organizations.” They are also required to schedule a time slot for their services, meaning they “do not have public access rights.” Therapy dogs can lower stress and anxiety, especially for those who may be facing medical procedures, or even finals in college. 

Emotional Support Dogs

 Unlike therapy dogs, “emotional Support Animals are not classified as service animals under the ADA; these animals are pets only,” Weimer clarified. This ambiguity has caused headaches for the airline industry, where some have taken advantage of it to keep their animal with them as they travel. As a result, airlines are not required to honor an emotional support animal, which can make it difficult for those who truly need theirs. 

There is also a process to obtain a legitimate emotional support animal. Weimer explained this process: “A mental health provider will prescribe an emotional support animal to their patients. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist prescribes these to someone with a disabling mental illness to help the client better their mental health. Legit ESAs are provided certain accommodations such as waiving pet bans and restrictions as well as not being charged a pet deposit to have their ESA with them.”

What Breeds are Best?

Now that we know the differences between the three, what kinds of breeds are best? Well, that depends.

A service dog needs to have a temperament that is synchronized with its owner and their specific needs. A dog that needs to assist its owner physically, like getting in and out of wheelchairs, needs to be large enough to do so. On the other hand, a smaller dog may be best if it is needed to warn its owner or seek assistance from others due to falling blood sugar or seizures. 

“Golden retrievers, labs, German Shepherds, Poodles, boxers, Great Danes, and border collies are all great examples of dogs that are used often for service dogs,” Weimer said. She went on to explain more of the requirements needed to become a service dog, “most service dogs do not even start task training until over a year old when it is mature and has a solid foundation in obedience, socialization, and distracting environments to ensure it has the correct temperament to be a service dog. Only 25% or less of dogs training for service work actually pass all of the requirements to be a service dog.” 

As for the best breeds for therapy dogs, Weimer finds “labs, golden retrievers, all small breed dogs, and other non-protective breeds do best for this role.” She went on to clarify that “it really  depends on a dog’s temperament, not breed.” As for an emotional support animal, any breed goes, with the same emphasis on an animal’s temperament being the most key factor over breed. 

Now that you understand the difference between the three types of dogs, what they do, and which breeds may be best, do you think you could benefit from having one? Do you know someone who may? Show them this article and spark a conversation! Or reach out to Paw & Order by clicking here. Check them out on Instagram and Twitter, too!

Weimer is a Certified Therapy Dogs United Evaluator and founder of Paw & Order Dog Training in Columbus, Ohio, with many other locations that span from Pennsylvania to Florida. Weimer is a military police veteran and founded Paw & Order in 2013 with her husband and co-owner, Steve Sentner. “Paw & Order specializes in all levels of dog training, including puppy training, basic obedience, and intense behavior modification, including working with dogs that have been deemed impossible to train,” per email. 

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