As part of M.A.S.T.’s Therapy dog team, I have gone on about 10 visits with my dog and I learn something new every time. I have heard many people ask our Program Director about the differences between a Service Dog, Therapy Dog, and an Emotional Support dog. It can be confusing to those not in the know, but here is a quick guide to tell the difference:

Service dogs:

Service dogs are like a prescription medicine, for just ONE person. To get one, a patient needs a prescription letter from their health service professional. Then they must go thru the process to locate such a dog. Many people don’t know who to contact or what to do once they get that written legal permission from their doctor (visit M.A.S.T.’s Service dog page to learn more). Once a patient figures that out, the dog is then selected and trained–very highly trained–which can be very expensive. Next, the patient is trained on how to work with the dog, the patient gets approval to take the new service dog home.

Service dogs need to have certain traits. Like: they don’t bark while working (unless trained to), they handle loud situations well, they act like they are literally On-The-Job, they are very tolerant.

People with service dogs do have permission from the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to bring the animal into public places. Unfortunately, there has been a rise in fake service dogs in recent years because some people want to take advantage of those special rights. And laws do not require that a patient show “proof” to anyone. You may wonder, how can you spot a fake one?

If the dog seems to not obey, not remain calm, bark, act uncontrollable, does not mind its own business so to say, then it’s probably not a certified service dog. It’s kind of like the difference between a professional and an amateur. Service dogs should act like they are professionally on the job while the vest is on.

The polite thing to do when you see a service dog is not to distract it from its job. That means, not petting, or running up to it, or calling it. The dog is taking care of its human and all senses need to be focused. Service dogs can also live with their owners in places that are labeled as having a “No Pets” policy.

Therapy dogs:

Therapy dogs are for everyone to share! They provide sensitive support and bring comfort to all different kinds of people in all different kinds of situations. They are mild, and have a calm and friendly demeanor. They also do not have big reactions to loud noises, especially when in a hospital environment, where a code can occur for example. They must be able to obey commands in emergency situations. They also need to be very tolerant of experiences, individuals and surroundings. Therapy dogs are usually certified by an organization like TDI (Therapy Dogs International).

Therapy dogs are not ADA covered. They do not have rights to go into all public establishments. They cannot live with an owner who is living in a place with a “No Pets” policy. They are not trained to help one specific person with any disabilities.

Therapy dogs are volunteers, along with their handlers, who love to bring comfort, smiles, strength and happiness to those they visit.

Emotional Support Dogs:

An ESD’s primary role is to deliver emotional care through companionship. To be eligible as someone who needs an Emotional Support Dog, the person must be considered emotionally disabled by their healthcare professional, meaning they need a prescription. ESDs may be able to live with their owners in a “No Pets” policy arrangement.  However…

ESDs are not covered by ADA. They have no rights to go into public establishments, they do not have the same allowances as “Service Dogs”. Emotional Support Dogs also do not need to be as tolerant as Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs need to be of people, places and sounds. They are also not required to be highly/professionally trained specifically to support an individual. ESDs do not provide emotional support and comfort to the people they visit or meet, like Therapy Dogs do.

If you have any questions about the differences in these types of dogs, please feel free to ask us! You can comment to us in our “contact us” section.