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

Written by Caitlin Wark

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Posted on July 15 2019

Since ancient times, dogs have been helping humans execute various tasks. Today we know dogs are capable of so much more. From sniffing out cancer to guiding a blind person, dogs can do it all. Recently, the idea of emotional support animals has been a hot topic relating to traveling on planes or visiting venues outside the house. It may be different in each state depending on the laws, but read below to make sure you know the difference between emotional support, therapy, and service dogs. 

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Emotional Support Dogs

Dogs that provide comfort and support to humans are called Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). Dogs are the most common animals that people choose as an ESA, but they can be different species as well, such as cats. These animals are allowed on airplanes and housing that normally does not accept animals, but they are not allowed in public areas, such as restaurants. There are many places that are open to any animals visiting public areas, such as Lens Crafters, auto shops, and Home Depot. We all know dogs can improve our physical and emotional health, which is why ESAs are so important.

The owner needs to prove that they need their ESA for a mental illness, such as anxiety or PTSD. A licensed mental health professional can write a letter for the place an ESA is desired, but certificates or registrations are not required. A veterinarian can also write a note stating they are healthy and able to be kept in such places (health certificate). Being an ESA requires no specific training, although they can be asked to leave and never return if they are disruptive or if they cause harm to another being. There are no size or breed restrictions for ESAs. They can wear a vest like a therapy dog, but it cannot say “Service Dog” on the vest.

 

Image by Agota Szilvasi from Pixabay

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs help people in need at hospitals, schools, and/or nursing homes. These dogs must be predictable, well behaved, and able to work in such environments. Therapy dogs have to be certified and registered, which means they have to pass certain training tests. During an animal assisted activity, the handler goes with the dog to a certain facility to provide love and affection. Both the organization at which the dog was registered and the facility must both approve the dog before he or she enters the building.

In some cases of animal assisted therapy, a licensed professional and a dog make a team to help individuals accomplish a goal. These dogs can help people with their physical and psychological health. There are no restrictions for the size or breed of the dog, but some teams may be better suited for different situations than others. Often teams are recognized by a colorful vest or bandana.

 

Service Dogs

Service dogs provide specific assistance to an individual with a disability. The disability hinders their ability to accomplish daily tasks, so the dog is specifically trained to fit their needs. Service dogs are often bred by non-profits to be trained for their partner. These dogs cost a lot of money to train, so many times volunteers raise puppies independently for the people in need. Once the pair is matched, the dog wears a “Service Dog” vest and usually has a no-petting policy. This is because any disturbance may put their partner at risk if the dog is not paying attention.

Image by MichaelDarby1976 from Pixabay

These dogs are allowed to go anywhere their partner is allowed in public. These dogs must have an impeccable temperament, as well as perfect health and genetics. The pair has to be able to be sustainable until another service dog is found as a replacement. The size of the animal in this case can directly impact their ability to assist their partner. This is why Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds are usually chosen to be service dogs.

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All three of these types of dogs serve as important parts of society to help assist humans, because of their ability to bond with people. The human-animal bond creates a connection so deep that our government has generated several acts and laws to protect these individuals. It is important to respect each partnership and open our hearts to new ones.

 

Links:

ESA https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/emotional-support-dog-requirements/

Therapy Dogs https://www.therapydogs.com/difference-therapy-dog-vs-service-dog/

https://www.chhs.colostate.edu/habic/volunteer/steps-to-becoming-a-volunteer/

 

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