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Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog Featured

Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Dog: A Helpful Guide

Dogs are our best friends for a reason, but they can also provide so much more than just companionship. Service dogs and emotional support dogs are both shining examples of the wonders behind the canine-human bond. However, they do provide different kinds of benefits for their guardians.

Read on to learn about what makes a service dog and an emotional support dog, as well as what separates the two.

What Is the Purpose of a Service Dog?

A service dog is specifically trained to help people with disabilities navigate the world and perform specific tasks. These animals accomplish this by performing tasks that are directly correlated with their handler's disability.

A service dog goes beyond the traditional definition of a "pet." In fact, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) provides special legal protections for service dogs and considers these assistance animals to be working dogs rather than pets.

This is why you should not approach a service animal while they are working. The companion animal is performing a necessary task and as such should not be interrupted or distracted. This goes for psychiatric service dogs, guide dogs, and more.

What Are the Different Types of Service Dogs?

"Service dog" can be a somewhat broad term, so it is important to consider what service(s) a specific dog is actually providing. People with all sorts of disabilities can qualify for service animals, but they will, of course, have their own individual needs that their pet can help with.

Some of the most common kinds of service dogs include:

  • Guide Dogs
  • Hearing Dogs
  • Seizure Alert Dogs (act prior to the seizure)
  • Seizure Response Dogs (help during the seizure)
  • Mobility Assistance Dogs
  • Diabetic Alert Dogs (DADs)
  • Autism Support Dogs
  • Allergy Detection Dogs
  • Psychiatric Assistance Dogs (different from emotional support dogs)

Who Qualifies for a Service Dog?

Many different disabilities could qualify someone for a service dog. If you or someone you know could use help for any of the purposes we covered in our last section, they could be eligible. Service dogs can provide incredibly helpful everyday assistance, so it might be worth looking into one.

Many people who have a service dog deal with various types of physical impairments and mental disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder, blindness, severe allergies, and more.

What Is the Purpose of an Emotional Support Dog?

It is no secret that our pets provide us with a tremendous amount of comfort. Any pet parent who has returned home after the end of a long and trying day will happily tell you that. However, an emotional support dog is a different type of companion that can offer more specialized help.

Over time, people have recognized the calming and mood-lifting effects of being around our canine companions. In fact, a wide variety of studies have proven this exact phenomenon. These lower stress levels as a result of being around dogs can lead to lower blood pressure and could even lower the risk of asthma in children. Emotional support dogs take this one step further.

What Tasks Can an Emotional Support Dog Do?

An emotional support dog's primary directive is to make its companion feel better. This could come in the form of cuddling, playing, or simply providing a distraction from fear or stress. Mental illnesses can be present in a wide variety of ways, so people who experience them might have different needs from one another.

This is the reason that emotional support animals are specifically trained for an individual, rather than providing comfort to many different people at once. After all, what works wonders for one person might not be quite as comforting for someone else.

Luckily, people have recognized that dogs do have the power to comfort multiple people at once. This is where therapy dogs come in, but we will go more in-depth on them later.

Who Qualifies for an Emotional Support Dog?

To qualify for an emotional support animal (or an "ESA" for short), someone has to obtain an official letter from a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or another form of licensed practitioner. You must be diagnosed with an emotional disability or mental illness.

Some of the emotional disabilities that could qualify you for an ESA include:

  • Anxiety Disorders (Generalized Anxiety Disorder, OCD, Panic Disorder)
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Learning Disorders (ADHD, Dyslexia)

Emotional support dogs don't typically have the same public accommodations that service dogs do, which means these dogs usually don't have access to places like restaurants, hospitals, and airports.

How Is a Service Dog Trained?

To comply with federal law and be considered service dogs, dogs typically go through special training programs to earn certifications and help people with mental and physical disabilities. After going through service dog training, these dogs are prepared for air travel, navigating public places, and visiting locations like hospitals and nursing homes.

There are a few ways to train a service dog. First, you can obtain a service dog from an organization whose sole purpose is to properly train service animals. These canines are taught everything they need to know to be wonderful service animals.

Unfortunately, service animals can be difficult to get since the lists are so long. Even if you do make your way through the list, these animals can be incredibly expensive.

Another option for getting a service dog is to train the service dog yourself, either with the help of a professional trainer or alone. Before embarking on this journey, you should first determine if your dog would make a good service animal. If your dog is easily overwhelmed or stressed out, this might not be the right path for them.

How Is an Emotional Support Dog Trained?

Emotional support dogs and therapy animals are typically trained in a way that is catered to their guardian and that person's disability. For instance, some of these animals might be specifically attuned to recognizing panic attacks in a family member. Meanwhile, others might do best at combating general feelings of loneliness in their companion.

The process of training an emotional support dog is much less strict than training a service dog. An emotional support dog does not need to be able to perform a certain set of tasks to earn its title. Rather than being considered working dogs like service animals are, emotional support dogs are more like highly attuned companions.

Emotional support dogs are likely to look different and act somewhat differently depending on their pet parents' individual needs. Part of the task of an ESA is to recognize their pet parents' emotional requirements and act accordingly. They might not need certain commands to do this, and their help might not come in the form of performing pre-set tasks.

Service dogs can, and generally do, also provide emotional support. However, they are classified as service dogs first and foremost, as this title is more difficult to achieve and has more legal rights.

Does a Service Dog Need To Be Certified?

Service dogs actually don't need to be officially certified to be considered valid. Instead, the dog simply must be trained to perform tasks that you would otherwise not be able to do or require significant assistance in doing. Some states do have certification programs and protocols in place to add legal legitimacy.

However, organizations are generally not allowed to ask to see papers or other proof of service dog certification. They can ask if your pet is a service dog, but that should be the extent of it. Some people with service dogs prefer to certify their pets and have these papers readily available anyway, just in case.

Does an Emotional Support Dog Need To Be Certified?

In a manner of speaking, an emotional support dog does require a type of certification. More specifically, a pet parent requires documentation that states they require an emotional support animal. This documentation must be obtained from their mental health provider in the form of an official prescription.

The prescription from your psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist also needs to contain the following:

  • Your diagnosis according to the DSM-V
  • The date of issuance
  • It must be written on the provider's official letterhead
  • Your provider's name and signature
  • The provider's license numbers and the state of issuance
  • Your name, and your pet's name if it's available

Do Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs Have Different Rights?

Since service dogs and emotional support dogs do have fundamentally different functions, they and their pet parents have somewhat different rights.

The Rights of Someone With a Service Dog

Perhaps the single biggest difference between service dogs and emotional support dogs is that service dogs are officially recognized under the ADA. This automatically gives them and their pet parents a number of rights that emotional support dogs might not have access to.

Service dogs have to be allowed in public spaces, even if other pets would usually be barred from entering. This same principle applies to housing. Even if an apartment or other accommodation might not allow animals, they have to allow service animals.

When it comes to flying with a service dog, each airline might have slightly different policies. Be sure to check with the airline you are planning on flying with prior to booking your flight, just to be sure it's a good fit.

The Rights of Someone With an Emotional Support Dog

Unlike with service dogs, not all public spaces have to allow emotional support dogs into their midst. Instead, many people obtain a letter from a healthcare provider stating that their animal qualifies as an emotional support dog for other reasons.

First and foremost, emotional support animals need to be given "reasonable accommodations" under the Fair Housing Act. This is to say that, similar to service animals, ESAs are allowed even in housing that usually forbids animals.

Unfortunately, those with emotional support dogs are likely to have a slightly more complicated experience while flying. Airlines do not legally need to allow emotional support animals, so you will likely have to fly with your pet just as any other pet parent would.

What Are Therapy Dogs?

Therapy dogs are in a different category from both service dogs and emotional support animals. Service dogs and ESAs are specifically meant to be the perfect companion for one individual. Meanwhile, therapy dogs have a friendly and positive demeanor that makes them lovely, temporary companions to just about anyone.

Rather than having just one pet parent, therapy dogs are often taken to different locations where people could use a pick-me-up. Hospitals, schools, and workplaces are all common spaces where you might find therapy dogs at work.

What Is the Difference Between Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs?

There are two big differences between therapy dogs and emotional support dogs. The first difference is that emotional support animals require a prescription from your primary care physician or a licensed mental health provider. Therapy dogs, however, get their certification in a different way.

The second difference is that emotional support dogs are charged with providing comfort just to their guardian. However, therapy dogs must be able to provide comfort to many different people at once. They do not need to be carefully attuned to the needs of one individual, but they do need to do well with a lot of people simultaneously.

How Does a Dog Become a Therapy Dog?

To become a therapy dog, a canine has to reach a couple of milestones. First, puppies can't be therapy dogs. They're simply too young, energetic, and possibly unpredictable. Also, since they are so young, they probably have not yet had enough time to be fully trained to work with people.

There are several officially recognized therapy dog organizations, but they might have different requirements for a dog to obtain a certification. Typically, some kinds of obedience tests will be administered. Certain organizations have their own tests that are specifically for therapy dogs, while others will recognize more general tests that focus primarily on obedience.

A dog must be able to adhere to basic commands such as "sit," "lay down," and "leave it" to become a therapy dog. They also need a calm and easygoing demeanor. Therapy dogs have to be able to adapt to nearly any situation and remain friendly in all of them.

We Don't Deserve Dogs

Dogs make for amazing companions, but the ways that they can help us never cease to amaze. Whether it's in the case of a service dog or an emotional support dog, the relationship between people and these loyal animals is a strong one.

And that's why our dogs deserve the best, including a space where they can feel comfortable, safe, and, dare we say, stylish. That's why Diggs offers pet safety options like the Revol Dog Crate and Passenger Travel Carrier, which provide protection during travel or a comfortable space at home that's just for them.


Frequently Asked Questions About Service Animals and the ADA |

Who Can Prescribe an Emotional Support Animal Letter? |

Becoming a Service Dog: Training and Temperament Are Key Factors | Sayers Animal Hospital

Dog Characteristics and Future Risk of Asthma in Children Growing Up With Dogs - PMC | NIH

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