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

There is controversy surrounding the roles of animals in the lives of people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Many of us have seen the posts online about registering your animal as an emotional support animal with a small fee, and being able to keep your animal in a no pets allowed setting. This has led people to question the legitimacy of all service animals and their roles. A feeling of distrust among people who do not understand the difference between these animals, and the rights that accompany them, has been emerging as more people utilize these services.

Service Dogs are the most protected and trained of the 3 types of dogs. While many people refer to all 3 types as “service animals”, the official names for this type is Service Dog. These dogs are legally considered medical equipment and have a price tag to match, ranging from $10,000- $50,000. They are intensively trained for 1.5-2.5 years, having to pass a variety of tests to be serviceable including, but not limited to, opening cupboards, retrieving dropped objects, staying calm in public, etc.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Service Dogs are allowed anywhere their handler is, and cannot be turned away from an establishment or refused to go to work with their handler. DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act, and DOJ/HUD Fair Housing Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act cover other circumstances that the ADA doesn’t. While there is a difference between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals, there is a gray area for dogs that are used to calm anxiety attacks under ADA rules. Psychiatric Service Dogs are covered under the ADA only if they perform a specific action to avoid or lessen an attack. If they are just there for comfort then they are considered an Emotional Support Animal.

Therapy dogs are kind of the opposite side of the same coin as Service Dogs. Instead of offering physical aid to their handlers, they provide psychological or physiological therapy to others and are accompanied by a handler who doesn’t usually need their service. The best example of a therapy dog would be dogs that go to children’s hospitals to bring comfort, or dogs that work in school systems.

These animals, like the Service Dogs, require extensive training. Therapy dogs are also encouraged to be very social and interact with a variety of people, unlike Service Dogs who need to focus on their handler. Therapy dogs may be trained by anyone, but they need to meet standards to be certified. Therapy dogs do not have the same rights as service dogs, though many places will allow a therapy dog to accompany their owners, they are not required to by law.

The last type we are discussing are Emotional Support Animals. This one is the most vague and open-ended. An Emotional Support Animal does not have to have any special training and most of the time is registered by its owner because it brings comfort. Also, an Emotional Support Animal does not have to be a dog. These animals are not protected under the ADA and cannot accompany their owners in establishments where there are no animals allowed. Owners with a registered support animals can keep them in housing that otherwise does not allow pets according to the Fair Housing Act.

Dogs With Separation Anxiety: Twelve Tips From a Professional Canine Behavior Specialist

As a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in behavior issues and has treated many cases of canine separation anxiety, I have seen first-hand how challenging the problem can be. Separation issues not only have behavioral consequences for the dog, but there is an emotional component for both dog and owner, which can make matters even more difficult.

Some dogs are hyper-attached to a particular person, while others simply do not like to be left alone. Anxiety levels range from mild to extreme, and may display as pacing, drooling, barking or other vocalizations, inappropriate elimination, and destruction, to name a few. In extreme cases, dogs may injure themselves trying to escape to follow their owners. It can be frustrating to come home to destruction and potty accidents day after day, and truly terrible to watch your dog suffer. So what can you do?

1. First, set up a video camera to record your dog’s actions when you are away. Reviewing the footage will help to you determine whether your dog seems anxious or upset, or is destroying things out of boredom. If it’s the latter, providing more exercise and mental stimulation should help.

2. Consider creative management solutions. If your dog remains calm as long as another dog is present, you could bring him to a doggy daycare center, or arrange for play dates with another dog. If that’s not possible, hire a petsitter, or bring your dog along when you do short errands.

3. Desensitize your dog to departure cues-those things that clue him in that you’re leaving. Pick up your keys and put them down immediately; put on your jacket and remove it. Do these things multiple times each day until your dog does not react.

4. To prepare for a departure, choose an area your dog will feel safe, such as his crate or a gated off room; this varies by dog, as some anxious dogs may panic in a crate.

5. Be sure your dog is well exercised before you leave him.

6. Provide a stuffed Kong or other tantalizing chew item that will last for some time.

7. You can also place an item that smells like you (such as a t-shirt or sweatshirt you’ve been wearing, or a towel you’ve rubbed on your body) in his safe are to provide comfort.

8. You may have to practice being physically separated but in sight first, then out of your dog’s sight but still in your home before you ever actually leave the house. Once your dog is ready for actual departures, leave for very short periods at first, starting with mere seconds. Gradually build to longer absences. Don’t push too far too fast, always making sure your dog remains calm.

9. Complementary measures that can help include body wraps, psycho-acoustically designed music, DAP, flower essences, and more.

10. In severe cases, pharmacological intervention may be indicated. Consult your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist.

11. A trained professional can offer guidance and support. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers is a good place to start.

12. There are some good books on the subject. Don’t Leave Me: Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety is an in-depth workbook with step-by-step protocols, tips and techniques that allow you to customize a rehabilitation program for your dog. The Cautious Canine is a shorter booklet but is packed with useful information.

Remember that progress will be made gradually. In mild cases improvement may take only a few weeks. In moderate cases, it might take months. In extreme cases, complete recovery could take up to a year or more. The important thing is to stick with the program, seek help when necessary, and do not give up hope. Your dog is worth it!