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Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Dogs – Everything You Need to Know

Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Dogs – Everything You Need to Know

Well, we have a lot to cover with this topic, so let’s get on with breaking down what we mean by both service dogs and emotional support dogs.

As you look around the Internet, you may find references to not only service dogs, but also emotional support dogs.

Now, if you thought that any dog that helps an individual, with whatever is going on, would then automatically be classified as a service dog, then you are wrong.

So that then leads us to the question of trying to understand the difference between the two. Where does the job of one dog end, and what happens when it comes to getting access to everywhere?

The Difference Between a Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dog

First, let’s look at the difference between the two options, and their job description is completely different to one another. 

You see, even though it’s clear that both terms are very individualistic, people sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the jobs they do overlap.

Well, they don’t, and then you also have a therapy dog that also comes with other tasks they are expected to perform.

So, it makes sense to really spend time looking at what happens with both dogs. What differences exist in their training?

What about the tasks they need to perform for their owner? Well, that’s what we will help with.

service dog with harness - Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Dogs

Service Dog

A service dog is one specifically trained to help an individual with a disability of some kind.

The list of disabilities tends to include ailments some people do not even think about, so more service dogs are out there than people realize.

Aside from a guide dog helping people registered as blind, it also includes hearing dogs, seizure dogs, dogs that help with diabetes, and other mental impairments.

These dogs need to undergo specific training to then allow them to carry out certain commands.

The main aim is to ensure their owner stays safe at all times, and the dog is certainly capable of steering them away from various difficulties and situations.

emotional support dog - Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional Support Dog

Turning now to the emotional support dog, what you have here is a dog that actually provides its owner with a sense of calmness and peace through the medium of their companionship.

In that sense, their sole focus is to help the owner feel better from an anxiety point of view. They do not seek to help an individual with various tasks like service dogs need to do.

As you can see from this point alone, there is a marked difference in what is expected from both of these types of dogs.

That then explains why the rules and laws surrounding them can often end up completely different.

It’s all to do with the way in which these dogs are actually trained to then help with some very specific issues.

Service Dog Training

To give you a better understanding of where the two types of dogs differ, we can look more closely at the training they receive.

At that point, you will see how different the two dogs tend to be.

In the case of a service dog, you can look at training a dog on your own, but it’s not easy. Instead, most people will look at using a service dog provided via the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Alternatively, local governments may also help some individuals with any disabilities that then qualify the individual for a service dog.

But the training they undergo does depend on the type of service or ailment they will help with.

For example, a hearing dog needs to perform different tasks from those trained to sense when the blood sugar levels of an individual could drop.

service dog helping owner - Service Dogs vs Emotional Support Dogs

The Requirements of a Service Dog

But a service dog does have to meet various rules and regulations when working. Also, it’s important to point out that a service dog is not viewed as a pet. Instead, they are working dogs.

However, a service dog must remain on its leash at all times when out working. A service dog should also be harnessed or tethered.

The only time when they should not is when it potentially interferes with their ability to carry on with their job.

Also, a service dog needs to have the ability to perform certain tasks that you yourself cannot do. That is the absolute key when determining if a dog is indeed a service dog.

However, do not think you can then claim your own dog as a service dog just because you have trained them to do something. That’s not how it works.

Instead, the entire process of having a dog classified as a service dog is actually quite specific in nature. 

Also, you should look at detailing the training and achievements of your service dog. This does help should you find yourself in a situation where individuals doubt the validity of your service dog.

Emotional Support Dog Training

Moving into the emotional support dogs now, what you see is that their training is different from that you would experience with service dogs.

This happens because they need to meet different needs from that of a service dog. These dogs are not required to carry out various tasks.

Their main goal is to help you feel more comforted and relaxed. They often do this via lots of cuddles, and by being around you with their calming presence.

Keeping that calm presence is the main focus of their training. You do not want an emotional support dog that is too much of a livewire. It would end up in absolute chaos. 

The Requirements of an Emotional Support Dog

Any dog breed has the potential to act as an emotional support dog. However, it’s easier to look for breeds deemed as more laid-back in their approach to life.

Other dogs can still work as emotional support dogs, but you will need to indulge in a lot more training to get them up to the correct standard.

An emotional support dog should come across as loving, and quiet. They should not react to every single thing going on around them, and should hopefully make their owner feel just as laid-back as they are themselves.

The Difference in Laws

One thing you must know about regarding both of these types of dogs has to be the difference in the laws. 

Service dogs certainly have the law on their side. An individual using a service dog should not encounter any problems regarding where they can venture with their dog.

Also, an individual cannot have a staff member asking them about their actual disability.

Everyone is familiar with the idea of people going into stores or on public transport with a service dog. We don’t even think twice about it.

However, emotional support dogs will have to deal with different treatments.

The Difficulty with Emotional Support Dogs

So when it comes to emotional support dogs, then things end up slightly different. First, you will not automatically receive full access to every single public area. That’s not how it works with an emotional support dog.

Instead, you may find you can only take your dog into areas where any dog is allowed to venture. You get no special dispensation at any point.

Also, laws have changed since 2020 regarding the ability to fly with an emotional support dog. Previously, there were no issues. However, now a number of airlines do not allow it. 

Once again this is different from what you would experience with a service dog.

Drawing Together the Main Differences

The difference between a service dog compared to an emotional support dog is light night and day.

That fact then explains why you can go anywhere with a service dog, but have to endure various restrictions when you have an emotional support dog.

That’s not to say one dog is inferior to the other. It’s just that they both need to help individuals with different things. Both are just as important as the other to the owner.

But it’s still a good idea to know where there could be a real difference in what is expected from the dog, and also how they are then treated. 

Overall Conclusion

So that is everything you need to know when it comes to the difference between an emotional support dog and a service dog.

Both do bring so much comfort to their owners, but they do so for different reasons, and also in different ways.

The key here is the help they provide. However, both options can then have to deal with different laws around the country.

So do not automatically assume that your emotional support dog provides you with the same benefits as a service dog. 

Sadly, this is not always the case. But then, as long as the dog is capable of performing the roles it was trained for, then that has to be the most important thing of all.

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