Service, Working, Therapy, and Emotional Support Dogs; What’s the Difference?

Over the years, I have realized that ALL Dogs Have A God Given Purpose.

As an owners it is incumbent upon us to determine what our dog’s purpose is. Dogs have been assisting human since their creation. Some are hunters and others provide some sort of assistance or protection. I discuss in the section, “Finding The Right Puppy For the Purpose: Temperament is Key, that indeed Temperament Is The Key” to discovering the dogs purpose. I learned first hand that a dog or puppy’s temperament is the key to understanding his or her purpose in life. I described that I had one idea for our Golden Retriever Jack’son, and later discovered his temperament was not suitable for that particular job. We have since discovered that Jack’son will make an amazing Working Dog, and are beginning to work toward his training, so he can achieve his God Given Potential.

We believe that every dog has a purpose. Whether it is to be a loving companion and friend for a family, maybe one who does Agility, Dock Diving, or other fun family unit activities. Maybe the dog has a more precise purpose, such as Service, Working, Therapy, and Emotional Support. Each of the last three are very specific and most are supported by law.

The information below is taken directly from the American Kennel Club Organization Website The Pictures were submitted by Marcia Hayden and Close Personal Friends whose dogs serve in these capacities.

What Do Service Dogs Do?

As defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are individually trained to perform specific tasks and to work with people with disabilities. According to the ADA, disabilities can be “physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” The work of the service dog must be directly related to the handler’s disability. These are just some of the things a service dog can do:

  • Guide dogs help blind people navigate in the world.
  • Hearing (or signal) dogs alert deaf people to sounds, such as a knock on the door or a person entering the room.
  • Psychiatric dogs are trained to detect and lessen the effects of a psychiatric episode.
  • Service dogs help those in wheelchairs or who are otherwise physically limited. They may open doors or cabinets, fetch things their handler can’t reach, and carry items for their handler.
  • Autism assistance dogs are trained to help those on the autism spectrum to distinguish important sensory signals, such as a smoke alarm, from other sensory input. They may also alert their handler to repetitive behaviors or overstimulation.
  • Service dogs that are trained to recognize seizures and will stand guard over their handler during a seizure or go for help.

What Rights Do Service Dogs Have?

The ADA mandates that service dogs have full public access rights, which means they are allowed to go places where are animals are forbidden. They can be brought into restaurants, stores, libraries, and other public spaces. They must be permitted in housing, even if other pets are not allowed. Service dogs are also allowed on airplanes and other public transport. One caveat: each airline has its own rules regarding service dogs. Most require that the dog sits on the traveler’s lap or at their feet. Dogs cannot block the aisle or sit in the emergency exit row. Service dogs are exempt from the pet fees that airlines charge.

What is a Working Dog?

A working dog is a purpose-trained canine that learns and performs tasks to assist its human companions. Detection, herding, hunting, search and rescue, police, and military dogs are all examples of working dogs. Working dogs often rely on their excellent senses of smell to help out where humans fall short. Just a few of the jobs performed by working dogs include:

  • Search and rescue.  From missing persons cases to natural disasters, dogs have been an integral part in finding people in dire situations.  Search and rescue (SAR) dogs can either use a scent in the air or the scent of a specific object to find who they’re looking for.  They can be used in many different situations, including disasters, cadaver searches, drowning situations, and avalanches. 
  • There are many other types of working dogs, which perform many amazing feats. Please go to the American Kennel Club website if you’d like more information.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs play a different helping role than service dogs and emotional support animals. They aren’t trained and then moved to live with a specific handler. Rather, these are dogs that with their human teammate, generally their owner, volunteer in clinical settings, such as hospitals, mental health institutions, hospices, schools, and nursing homes, where they provide comfort, affection, and even love in the course of their work. Therapy dogs are trained to be comfortable in new environments and to interact with different people. They should have a calm temperament, be unfazed by unfamiliar noises and movements, be comfortable being handled, and love people.

Do Therapy Dogs Have Legal Rights?

Although they are defined as comfort dogs and often used in therapeutic settings, therapy dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA, and don’t have the same legal rights or access in public spaces. There are no uniform state or national rules that regulate and certify therapy dogs, and different organizations have different guidelines. As a general rule, therapy dogs should be trained, insured, and licensed by the non-profit therapy dog organization that’s offering their services.

What Do Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) Do?

Emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA. They may be trained for a specific owner, but they are not trained for specific tasks or duties to aid a person with a disability, and this is the main difference between ESAs and service dogs. This doesn’t minimize the support these dogs provide for people with a psychological disorder or emotional need. They’re considered companion animals and ease anxiety, depression, some phobias, and loneliness.  In order to be considered an emotional support dog, it must be prescribed by a mental health professional for a patient with a diagnosed psychological or emotional disorder, such as anxiety disorder, major depression, or panic attacks.

What Rights Do Emotional Support Animals Have?

Unlike service dogs, ESAs have only limited legal rights and those typically require a letter of diagnosis from the owner’s doctor or psychiatrist. While they don’t have unlimited access to public spaces, the Fair Housing Act mandates “reasonable accommodations” for emotional support animals even in buildings that don’t allow pets. The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines to allow ESAs on flights, but travelers must have a letter from a doctor or licensed therapist. There may be additional requirements as well. Because so many people abuse the concept of an emotional support animal, including the traveler who tried to bring an “emotional support peacock” on board a United Airlines flight, airlines are tightening restrictions on emotional support animals. We can expect other commercial and public spaces to follow.

A Side Note

As a side note, always carry a record of the dog’s vaccinations whenever you go to a facility, or when you travel with him or her. When flying, as long as the handler has a certified letter from a therapist stating that the dog is an emotional support dog, and used for a specific person (the handler or someone traveling with the dog), the airlines most often will cooperate. Remember they are a business, providing a service to you. Always contact the airline before traveling with an animal to make oneself aware of their restriction and requirements.

Pictured above is Cosmo, Charlie’s brother from the same litter. Cosmo is an Emotional Support and Therapy Dog In Training to his boy who is autistic. Cosmo makes a huge difference in this boy’s life. He is calming and therapeutic. He is also helping his boy learn to take responsibility. He tucks his boy into bed each night. Cosmo, like several other puppies from this litter is a “Puppy with a Purpose” making life better for this boy and his family. If you are interested in a puppy that is breed for a purpose, please go to the following website and contact the breeder, Denise Hoyt @