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What's the Difference Between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs?

Service dogs and emotional support dogs both play an important role in the lives of those with physical disabilities, serious health problems or psychological disorders. However, they have different “jobs” to do, and the laws surrounding both are not the same.

What Are Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs?

Service dogs are dogs that are trained to perform specific tasks to help owners who have a disability or serious health problem. For example, seeing eye dogs assist individuals who are blind, such as by helping them cross streets safely. Service dogs for owners with epilepsy are trained to alert them that a seizure is about to happen. Those who are around service dogs should avoid approaching them or distracting them when they are assisting their owner.

Emotional support dogs do not have specialized training in performing certain tasks for their owners. Instead, their presence provides a source of comfort and stress relief for those who suffer from psychological conditions, such as post-traumatic disorder, bipolar disorder or anxiety. These dogs are generally safe to interact with as long as the owner is ok with it.

Requirements for Certification

While there are many places that offer certification programs for service dogs and emotional support dogs, these programs are not required by law. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not legally require service dogs or emotional support dogs to have any specific certification or even undergo professional training. The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners does offer recommended standards that service dogs and emotional support dogs should go through in order to ensure that they are well-mannered in public places.

Laws for Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs

Service dogs are generally allowed access to public places and businesses, including restaurants and stores, under the ADA. There are exceptions to this if the presence of a service dog would cause potential harm or disruption, such as at a zoo near certain exhibits.

Emotional support dogs do not have the same legal rights as service dogs under the ADA. However, the Fair Housing Act does provide a right to housing for those with an emotional support dog.

When it comes to flying, the Air Carrier Access Act generally allows service and emotional support dogs in the cabin. However, there are exceptions, and each airline has its own specific policies for service and emotional support dogs. For example, dogs that are too large might not be allowed in the cabin due to safety concerns.

Comments (2)

  • John Stephen on Jun 02, 2023

    One thing that I particularly appreciated about this article was the section on the different types of training that service dogs undergo. It’s amazing to see how these dogs are specifically trained to assist individuals with disabilities in their daily lives, and it’s truly inspiring to see how they can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

  • Andrea Harris on Sep 23, 2018

    One thing that is common between a service dog and an ESA is, both provide help to people with disabilities. A person having stress or depression is mentally ill. An ESA provides mental solace when the patient is disturbed mentally and provides a useful company when the patient feels loneliness. Thousands of patients having conditions of stress, anxiety & depression have recovered after getting ESA letters from reputed mental health specialists like My ESA Doctor.

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