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Service Dogs vs. Therapy Dogs vs. ESA – What’s the Difference?

Posted in Blog

Today, our canine friends can be trained to do miraculous things. While some dogs learn different tricks that bring smiles to our faces, other dogs are tasked with a much bigger responsibility. Depending on where you live, it is becoming a regular occurrence to see a service dog, therapy dog, or even an emotional support animal at work. However, it can be hard to tell the difference between such animals. You might find yourself wondering “What exactly is the difference between these three jobs?”

Service Dogs

For starters, a therapy dog is an animal that is specifically trained to help an individual with a disability. Service dogs can be trained to help the blind, individuals with autism, and even individuals with diabetes or severe allergies. From a young age, a service dog begins its rigorous training in order to master its job perfectly. Service dogs are quite common to pick out in public, as they are often seen wearing a vest that specifically states that they are such. The vest also usually has writing on it that asks people not to pet them. It is a common myth that service dogs must wear a vest, when in fact it is not required by law. However it is generally a good idea to have some way for other people to identify that a dog is at work, and therefore should not be distracted. This is another reason one should always ask before petting another person’s dog.

Therapy Dogs

While therapy dogs also go through training, it is much different than that of a service dog. Therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with people, and are trained to behave in a public setting. They often visit hospitals, nursing homes, and schools in order to provide love and support for those who need it. Unlike a service dog, a therapy dog is not given public access rights. Therapy dogs have also been known to visit college campuses during the week of final exams in order to provide support. They can often be identified wearing a bandanna that states that they are a therapy dog.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are animals that help people with mental, psychological, or emotional disorders. ESA’s are protected under the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act. This means that individuals with an ESA are able to live in buildings/houses where pets are generally not permitted, and are able to travel in the cabin of an airplane with their handler. ESA’s do not need any special training in order to be “certified”, and instead the handler must only receive a note from a mental health professional. An emotional support animal is not just restricted to dogs either, it can be any animal of any age from a cat to a ferret.


Despite their differences, it is quite apparent that animals can be trained to do amazing things, especially dogs! With their help, people are able to do things that they would otherwise not be able to achieve. Service dogs help people with disabilities to achieve independence while therapy dogs and ESA’s are able to provide love and support that only an animal could offer.


Works Cited:
“Difference Between a Therapy Dog vs a Service Dog.” Alliance of Therapy Dogs Inc., 27 Aug. 2018,
“Do You Need a Vest for a Service Dog?” Service Dog Certifications,
“Emotional Support Animals vs. Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs.” ESA Doctors, 16 Mar. 2016,
“PetMD.” PetMD,
“The Difference between Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs.” Swedish, 11 Nov. 2014,

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