The Difference Between Therapy Dogs, Service Dogs, And Emotional Support Dogs

Part of what makes dogs such inspiring creatures is their willingness and ability to take on different roles and learn new things and three key categories of dogs are therapy dogs, service dogs, and emotional support dogs.

Dogs are some of the most popular and beloved pets in the world, with tens of millions of owners in the US alone, and they’re also some of the most impressive animals on the planet, renowned for their intelligence, adaptability, and loyal, loving nature.

Throughout history, we’ve seen dogs perform a wide range of tasks, from detecting bombs and mines during times of global conflict to aiding police forces around the world, guiding the blind, soothing the stressed, and bringing joy, comfort, and companionship to folks of all ages.

Part of what makes dogs such inspiring creatures is their willingness and ability to take on different roles and learn new things and three key categories of dogs are therapy dogs, service dogs, and emotional support dogs.

What are the differences between these types of dogs? Which one is right for your particular situation or the circumstances of someone you know? What duties can each of these dogs perform? Read on to find out the key differences.

What Are Therapy Dogs?

Therapy dogs aim to offer affection, comfort, and companionship to people in certain locations, such as hospitals, care homes, or schools, bringing light into the lives of those who may be feeling lonely or afraid, or just in need of a little tenderness and fun.

Therapy dogs undergo extensive training to help them be very docile, approachable, and familiar with being touched and handled by lots of different people, and they tend to be some of the friendliest and most affectionate dogs around.

However, unlike other types of support dogs, such as a service dog, therapy dogs don’t usually have any kind of special privileges or permissions to enter places where dogs wouldn’t usually be allowed unless express permission has been provided by the facility.

What Are Service Dogs?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service dog is one that has been specially trained to provide support or carry out tasks to assist owners with disabilities, which can range from having to use a wheelchair to suffering from PTSD or having regular panic attacks.

Examples of these kinds of tasks include guiding owners who are blind or visually impaired in some way, alerting deaf owners to potential hazards around them, guiding a wheelchair user along, or even warning someone who suffers from seizures to take preventative measures.

One of the key aspects that separate service dogs from other dogs is that they are allowed to enter any space that would usually be accessible to members of the public. For instance, they can go into patient rooms at hospitals and may enter locations that would usually prohibit dogs, as long as they’re harnessed or leashed and under control.

What Are Emotional Support Dogs?

Emotional support dogs, meanwhile, have some similarities with both therapy and service dogs. Like therapy dogs, they aim to bring comfort and friendship into their owner’s lives, and like service dogs, they carry out important duties for people in need.

They don’t usually receive any extensive training but are often recommended or even prescribed to those dealing with emotional or mental health issues. They don’t have to perform any particular tasks or duties; they simply bring emotional comfort and balance into a person’s life.

For these reasons, since they aren’t intensively trained, emotional support dogs are not usually allowed to enter the same sorts of places as service dogs. However, those who have registered ESAs may be allowed to live in apartments or housing that wouldn’t usually allow pets, and ESAs are able to accompany their owners on flights as well.

How To Tell The Three Types Apart

It’s clear to see that these three types of support dogs are very different, with different purposes, levels of training, and daily duties. The key to telling them apart is often to think about what owners they have and what they’re being used for.

Service dogs are always used by those with some form of disability. Therapy dogs are used in communal spaces like hospitals and schools. Emotional support dogs are usually owned by individuals with emotional or mental health problems.


Hopefully, this simple guide can help you better understand the key differences between therapy, service, and emotional support dogs. Each one is different, but they all play essential roles in helping people feel happy, content, and cared for. They all do amazing work, regardless of their role, and they all provide wonderful proof of what our canine companions can be capable of.

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