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What's the Difference Between Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Animals & Service Dogs?

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

When it comes to trained companion animals, a few terms are commonly confused. While each of terms refers to something similar, there are distinct differences between them. Let’s take a look at each and discuss what makes each unique!

What is a Therapy Dog?

Owners of therapy dogs typically aren’t disabled, but therapy dogs do plenty of work serving people with special physical or emotional needs. Therapy dogs are brought to private locations like hospitals and assisted living homes to provide companionship for those in need. There are many esteemed organizations training puppies to do this type of work, including:

What Is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) can be thought of as a skilled companion. ESA dogs can work in a person’s home and be brought on buses, trains, and airplanes. Aside from these modes of transportation, an ESA dog is allowed only in public places where dogs are generally allowed. An ESA dog can be quite helpful, however these dogs typically don’t possess a broad range of cues used to serve an owner.

What is a Service Dog?

Service dogs are trained over a two-year period to develop an extreme capacity for command obedience in order to provide individuals with round-the-clock service. Service dogs are allowed to accompany owners in public and must wear a vest for identification. (Otherwise the owner must carry service dog identification for the animal.)

Service dogs in training have the same privileges as fully trained service dogs, in that they are allowed in public. (If a puppy is going to work in public, it needs to be trained in public.)


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