The Differences between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs
Differentiating between, service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals is not a matter of splitting hairs or political correctness. Each of these dogs has a very different job from the others and the terms are not interchangeable.
While we appreciate the invaluable role that therapy dogs play in society and the crucial impact that emotional support animals have on the lives of their disabled owners, Please Don’t Pet Me is dedicated to promoting understanding and respect for service dog teams. In the spirit of doing so, we hope to reduce the prevalent confusion about the differences between these three roles.
Service Dogs are individually trained to perform tasks and do work that mitigate their handlers’ disabilities. Service dogs are much more than highly trained companions. Working as part of a team with their disabled partners, service dogs help them attain the safety and independence from which their handlers’ disabilities would otherwise limit them.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs in public places, like businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, etc. Additional acts of law, like the DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act, DOJ/HUD Fair Housing Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act protect the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals under a wide variety of circumstances under which the ADA may not be applicable.
Therapy Dogs also receive extensive training but have a completely different type of job from service dogs. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers; who are usually their owners. These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit various institutions like hospitals, schools, hospices, psychotherapy offices, nursing homes and more. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with a variety of people while they’re on-duty.
Somewhat similar to service dogs, therapy dogs can have a variety of jobs. While most people are familiar with therapy dogs who visit places like hospitals, nursing homes and hospices to provide emotional therapy, these are not the only environments in which therapy dogs can be beneficial. Therapy dogs may also visit schools, day cares, group homes and rehabilitation centers. Their roles vary, from dogs who give learning disabled children the confidence to read out loud to actively participating in physical rehabilitation therapy. In some cases, a therapy dog will work in a particular establishment exclusively, like a psychotherapy practice.
Therapy dogs may be trained by just about anyone, but must meet the standards set by a particular organization to be certified and actively participate within the respective organization. They are usually handled by their owners, but in some cases of Animal Assisted Therapy, the therapy dog may be handled by a trained professional.
It is important to note that, despite thorough training, certification and the therapeutic benefits therapy dogs provide, they do not have the same jobs or legal designation as service dogs. While some institutions offer therapy dogs access on a case by case for the benefit of patients, guests, customers or clientele, the handlers or owners of therapy dogs do not have the same rights to be accompanied by these dogs in places where pets are not permitted.