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Service Dog, Therapy Dog vs Emotional Support Dog

The main differences lie in their roles, training, and legal rights. Here's a breakdown of each:


1. Service Dog:

- Role: A service dog is individually trained to perform specific tasks to assist a person with a disability. These tasks are directly related to the handler's disability and are necessary to mitigate the effects of the disability. These tasks can vary depending on the individual's needs. For example, a service dog might be trained to alert a deaf person to specific sounds, guide a visually impaired person, or  retrieve items for someone with mobility issues. Training must focus on teaching the dog to perform these tasks reliably and consistently.


- Training: Service dogs must undergo extensive training. Training begins with basic obedience, and specific tasks that are tailored to the handler's needs. Service Dog's are also trained to behave appropriately in public settings and remain focused on their work.


- Duration of Training: The amount of training required for a service dog can vary depending on the dog's temperament, age and the complexity of tasks required. After Basic Obedience Training, generally it can take anywhere from six months to two years PLUS of consistent and intensive training to fully train a service dog.

According to the International Association for Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), service dogs should receive a minimum of 120 hours of training over a six-month period or more.


- Legal Rights: Service dogs are granted legal protection to accompany their handlers in all public places, including restaurants, stores, and transportation. They are generally allowed access to areas where other animals are not permitted.


-Paperwork And Testing Requirements: Service Dogs are not required to be listed on a registry, and/or have paperwork declaring them as a Service Dog. While there are many websites that offer to certify or register service dogs, those certificates are fake, and are not legitimate proof of a Service Dog. Getting a certificate or even a service dog vest does not make a pet a service dog. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires a person to have written documentation from a healthcare provider stating that the person has a qualifying disability for a Service Dog. The work the dog has been trained to do must be specifically related to the disability.


It is recommended to create a binder with the signed letter from the doctor, any training classes completed and a log of all training sessions.

2. Therapy Dog:

- Role: A therapy dog is trained to provide comfort, affection, and emotional support to people in various settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster areas. They help improve people's emotional well-being but are not individually assigned to a person with a disability.


- Training: Therapy dogs first undergo obedience training and then are trained to be calm, well-behaved, and friendly in various environments and with different individuals.


-Duration Of Training: The amount of training required for a Therapy Dog can vary depending on the dog's temperament, and age. Generally, after Basic Obedience Training it can take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks plus to be ready for testing.


-Age Requirements: Most Therapy Dog Organizations require that a dog must be at least 1 years old to take a Therapy Dog Test.


- Legal Rights: Therapy dogs do not have the same legal rights as service dogs. Their access to public places is usually limited to specific locations where they are invited or registered for therapy work.


-Paperwork And Testing Requirements:  Therapy Dogs and their handlers are a required to obtain a Therapy Dog Certification from an Organization (such as Therapy Dog International) to enter a public facility such as a nursing home, hospital or school system. The test is divided into two phases and is designed to simulate a visit with a therapy dog at a facility.


3. Emotional Support Dog:

- Role: An emotional support dog provides companionship and emotional support to individuals with mental health conditions or emotional disabilities. They offer comfort and help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other emotional issues.


- Training: Emotional support dogs are not require to have specific training, but they should be well-behaved and under the control of their handler. Basic obedience training is recommended.


- Legal Rights: Emotional support dogs do not have the same legal rights as service dogs. They may be allowed in housing with no-pet policies or on airplanes with appropriate documentation, but their access to public places is generally not protected by law.


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