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Understanding the Difference Between Emotional Support and Service Dogs

Throughout history,  dogs have been put to work next to their two-legged companions.  They have helped hunt for food, herd livestock, and guard homes.  Today the term, “working dog,” is often associated with service or emotional support dogs. 

Man’s best friend is more commonly being utilized to help people with various physical or mental illnesses or disabilities.  These dog’s help with tasks that are routine for most, but can be daunting for their handlers.

Despite the rising popularity of service and emotional support dogs, many are confused on what separates the two.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs are typically used by those with a mental illness or disability.  These dogs provide comfort and relief for those with mood, anxiety, fear and panic disorders simply through their companionship.  They are not trained to perform a specific task related to the handler’s illness or disability.

How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Dog
Too many are under the impression that you can buy an emotional support dog recommendation online and that it will allow you to register your family pet as a support animal.  These options do exist, however, handlers must have a recommendation from a licensed medical professional to obtain an emotional support dog letter. This is the only documentation that is required for an emotional support animal.

How Can a Dog Become an Emotional Support Animal
Because specific tasks are not done for the handler by the dog, no specific training is required.  You can even register your family dog or adopt one from a shelter.  However, the dog is expected to have manners in public spaces.  Anytime a dog appears to be out of the handler’s control or aggressive in any way, they may be asked to leave.

Legal Protections
Emotional support dogs are allowed in public spaces as long as they are behaving well and are not a threat to health and safety guidelines.

Also, with a legitimate Emotional Support Dog Letter, dogs are able to fly with most airlines.  There are some restrictions to this based on the airline, so it is advised to do some research before booking the flight.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Emotional Support Dogs cannot be turned away when looking for housing despite a “no pets” rule.  Landlords may verify the emotional support dog letter but they may not charge extra fees or deposits for an emotional support dog.


Service Dogs

Service Dogs are trained to perform specific tasks tailored to their handler’s needs.  These can include but are not limited to, guiding the blind, alerting for low blood pressure or seizures, retrieving/carrying items, or reminding someone to take their medication.

How to Qualify for a Service Dog
In order for an individual to obtain a service dog, they must have a condition that qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This disability must hinder the individual in life tasks and impair quality of life.

There are many different service dog programs and organizations that pair individuals with the perfect dogs based on their specific needs.  Once the individual finds the program they feel suits them, they will fill out an application and wait to be contacted by their chosen organization.

How Can a Dog Become a Service Animal?
Dogs are selected based on temperament and health.  Any breed can technically qualify, as long as it meets the standards for training and behavior as set by the owner or the organization.  An ideal service dog will be calm and focused on its handler in all situations.  Many organizations choose dogs as puppies and place them in rigorous training programs, others utilize dogs from shelters if they fit the behavior requirements.  For those interested, Buzzfeed created a series called “Puppy Prep” on YouTube that chronicles the training and development of service dogs from an organization called Doggie Do Good in Arroyo Grande, CA.

Legal Protections
Unlike Emotional Support Dogs, Service Dogs are protected by the ADA.  These dogs do not require documentation or vests to enter most public spaces.

Documentation may be required for the dog to accompany their handler to work and will be necessary for the dog to fly or live in “no pets” housing.  However, the ADA website specifically states that registrations bought online will not be considered legitimate proof that the dog is a Service Animal.

It is imperative to understand the fundamental differences between Emotional Support and Service Dogs.  Basic knowledge of laws and procedures, not only keeps businesses operating within legal guidelines but also ensures that those who truly rely on their dog for daily activities are treated with the same amount of dignity and respect as everyone else.

Guest Post by:
Lindsey Jay

Photo by Marcus Christensen on Pexel

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Really thankful for you nice post over this topic, got to know something really interesting.


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