Know About Assistance Dog, Emotional Support Dog & Therapy Dog

There are distinctive differences in the concepts of assistance dog, emotional support animal and therapy dog. This article will help you better understand the difference between them and consider whether you need a service dog or therapy dog.

What is the difference between an assistance dog, an emotional support dog, and a therapy dog?

These dogs differ in their function, degree of training received, and access rights to public places (in accordance with federal, US and other countries where these dogs are used).

Assistance Dogs and Service Dogs

The Assistance Dog is a dog that has been specially trained to perform tasks of assisting people with disabilities, improving their independence and quality of life.

According to the terminology used in the United States: Service Dogs is any dog that has been individually trained to do work and perform tasks in the interests of a person with a disability, including physical, sensory, mental , intellectual or other disabilities. They are considered “medical equipment,” like crutches or a wheelchair for a person with a disability, or a blood glucose meter for someone with diabetes.

The work or tasks performed by the assistance dog should be directly related to the health limitations or illness of the owner and should be aimed at partially compensating for these limitations, increasing the degree of independence and autonomy of the person.


Examples of functions or tasks that these dogs perform include, but are not limited to:

  • helping individuals who are blind or have low vision with navigation and other tasks;
  • warning people who are deaf or hard of hearing about the presence of people or sounds;
  • helping a person during an attack;
  • warning people about the presence of allergens;
  • assistance in towing a wheelchair; carrying objects, opening doors and other physical actions;
  • providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability while walking for persons with gait and balance disorders;
  • helping people with mental and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behavior.

The psychological effects of having a dog, providing emotional and psychological support, well-being, comfort, and communication are not functions and tasks for the purposes of the definition of Service Dogs. Natural dog behaviors such as guarding, barking, walking, licking and comforting the owner are also not the functions of assistance dogs within the scope of this definition. Disability alone is not enough; many people with physical disabilities have pets. A Service Dog is distinguished from a pet by specific, clearly identifiable tasks or work that it has been trained to perform in order to compensate for the owner’s disability and increase his autonomy.

The terms Assistance Dogs and Service Dogs are commonly used by the public, legislation (in the countries where such dogs are used) and various organizations.

According to the classification of the international organization AssistanceDogs International, there are three main categories of assistance dogs:

  • Guide Dogs – Guide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired;
  • Hearing Dogs – assistance dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • Service Dogs – Assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities other than sight or hearing, for example, physical disabilities, mental disorders, autism, epilepsy and many other diseases.

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)

An emotional support animal can be any animal that provides companionship and comfort for people with psychological disorders. They are usually dogs, but sometimes they are cats or other animals. Emotional support animals do not receive specific training for physical assistance to humans and do not belong to the Service Dog category, their task is emotional and psychological support.

This term is used in the United States and gives a number of advantages to the owners of such animals, for example, in some airlines, ESAs can fly on airplanes with their owners, and the ESA owner is granted the right to live with a pet (in the United States, it is not always possible to live with pets ). Schools, universities and other organizations set their own policies regarding whether they allow emotional support animals to go with them.

To qualify for the benefits provided by the ESA, their use must be recommended by a qualified physician, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional.

Therapy Dogs

Canistherapy is a method of rehabilitation of people using specially trained dogs for diseases such as cerebral palsy, psychomotor developmental disorders, during recovery from a stroke, in the case of depression in children and adults, in the treatment of hospitalism (hospital syndrome) and acute stress disorders, psychological trauma.

Canine therapy dogs are successfully used for socialization and adaptation to everyday life of children and adults with various mental disorders: autism, Down syndrome. Such dogs can provide assistance in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, boarding schools, hospices, disaster areas.


Specially trained canistherapy dogs are a tool in the hands of the specialist who works with the patient, and they are not Service dogs. Therapy Dogs are a distinct area of dog training that is not “medical equipment” that enhances the independence and quality of life of the person with a disability.

What is the difference?

Let me explain with an example: the surgeon’s scalpel is not a tool with which the patient improves his quality of life, it is a tool in the hands of the surgeon that allows the surgeon to improve the patient’s quality of life.

Therapy dogs do not have public access to public places where dogs are prohibited, except in the facilities in which they work or receive permission to visit.

All three types of dogs, which were listed above, differ significantly in their functions, tasks and purpose. These concepts are not equivalent!

Salman Zafar

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