What Are The Differences Between Service Dogs, Facility Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals?

woman in wheelchair is pulled along by yellow lab service dog in blue vestLearn the differences between a service dog and other types of dogs you might see around your community – soon you’ll be an expert. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a clear definition of a service dog. 

  • A service dog is a dog that has been individually trained to perform work or tasks to assist a person with a disability. 
  • An animal who provides comfort doesn’t qualify as a service dog under the ADA. 
  • Only service dogs and their handlers are allowed in public places where pet dogs aren’t allowed. Also, a service dog must be under control and behave in a safe, non-aggressive manner at all times – otherwise they can be removed from a business. 

There are other types of dogs you may have seen that aren’t service dogs:

  • Facility dogs are highly trained in specific tasks to assist professionals working in healthcare, rehabilitation, criminal justice or education settings. However, facility dogs aren’t permitted in public where service dogs are allowed . They are allowed in the facility where they work and help improve client outcomes. 
  • Therapy dogs are pets that have been certified to visit and provide comfort and joy to people who need it. Therapy dogs should not be in public places under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 
  • Emotional support dogs are pet dogs that help people with disabling mental health disorders feel comforted and calm. They’re not trained in tasks and don’t have the right to go into public, unlike a service dog. Emotional support dogs are allowed in housing that doesn’t permit pets so they can assist their owners. 

Why Does This Matter?

When untrained pets or poorly trained service or emotional support dogs are in public places where they aren’t allowed, it has a real impact on people with disabilities and the genuine service dogs they rely on for independence. Not only do untrained pets distract working service dogs, they also can be a threat to the health and safety of service dog teams. 

  • 95% of service dog users report encountering poorly trained, out of control dogs in places where pets are not allowed. 
  • 97% report that they feel the issue of untrained dogs has increased or stayed the same in recent years. 
  • 1 in 3 report that their genuine service dog has been snapped at and/or bitten during these encounters. 
  • Over three quarters of teams feel that untrained dogs in places pets aren’t allowed has negatively impacted their independence and quality of life. 

People with disabilities rely on service dogs to be independent. Some people don’t understand that pretending an untrained dog is a service dog isn’t a victimless crime.  

  • 3% of service dog users report having to permanently retire their working service dogs due to the physical and behavioral impacts of untrained dogs. Many more handlers choose to avoid public places with their service dogs due to fear of an altercation.