What’s the difference between Service dogs, Emotional Support dogs, and Therapy dogs, and how do I get my dog registered?

By now, you may have seen dogs who are wearing vests that indicate that they are some type of service or support dog at places like airports or hospitals, but what’s the difference, and is it Ok to approach those dogs?  There are three types of service/support related categories that we will discuss:  Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dog, and Therapy Dogs.  Regardless of the type of service or support animal, you should always first ask the owner if you can approach the dog.  If it is a service dog, owners will often decline because their dogs are working and not in play mode.


Service Dogs

Service dogs are dogs that have been trained to perform a specific task for individuals who have disabilities.  Service dogs can aid in navigation for people who are hearing- and visually impaired, assist an individual who is having a seizure, calm an individual who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and even dial 911 in the event of an emergency. 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an individual with a disability is entitled to a service dog.  As such, disabled people can bring their service dog with them to most places that the public is permitted as long as the dog is behaving and housebroken. However, it's best that service dogs wear a service dog vest or tag, letting the public know that it is a service dog.  Any dog can be a service dog, and service dogs do not have to be professionally trained.

You are NOT allowed to be asked by an owner, manager, or other representatives of a business what your disability is that allows you to have a service dog. The only information that may be asked is if it is a service dog, and what tasks the service dog is trained to perform for you.  Also, businesses are not allowed to refuse you service.

Service dogs are allowed on planes at no extra charge, but you will want to check with the airline in advance about the necessary documentation required and to give them time to make the accommodations needed.

Note:  Only dogs can be qualified as a service animal.


Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs are dogs that provide comfort and support in forms of affection and companionship for an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions.  An emotional support dog is not required to perform any specific tasks for a disability like service dogs do; they are meant solely for emotional stability and unconditional love.  They can assist with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder/mood disorder, panic attacks, fear/phobias, and other psychological and emotional conditions.  If you suffer from emotional or psychological conditions, then you are entitled to an emotional support dog.  There are no applications to fill out; all you need is a current note (within the past year) from a doctor or a mental health professional. You will need to keep your doctor’s note with you to provide as proof when necessary.

Any common domestic animal including dogs, cats, or ferrets, and more can be registered as an emotional support animal. There is no specific training that your dog needs to go through to be considered an emotional support animal.  To qualify, the animal must be reasonably well behaved and potty trained.  Once your dog is considered an emotional support dog he or she can stay with you at your residence even if the owners or management do not allow pets. 

You’re also allowed to bring emotional support animals on airplanes at no additional charge.  You’ll want to notify the airlines at least 48 hours in advance so that they can make accommodations for you.  It is important to realize that attempting to take advantage of the emotional support category so your animal can fly with you or live in no-pet housing is an abuse of the system and makes it harder for people with a legitimate need.

Note:  Emotional Support Dogs Are Not Psychiatric Service Dogs.  Psychiatric Service Dogs work specifically with people whose disability is due to a mental illness. These dogs detect the beginning of psychiatric episodes and help ease their effects.  For example, the dog might remind a person to take prescribed medications or perform room searches for a person with post-traumatic stress disorder.


Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are dogs that are used to bring comfort and joy to those who are ill or under poor conditions, such as those who have been affected by a natural disaster. Many people are able to connect with dogs and feel the love that they provide, and this has a therapeutic effect on them.

In order to make your dog a therapy dog, it should have a calm demeanor and be well-trained. Certain types of breeds may be better suited to be therapy dogs since their temperaments make them better around other people. Since therapy dogs are not covered under any specific federal laws, permission would have to be given from each place that a therapy dog is to be taken.

For more information about how your dog can become a therapy dog, you can download a free e-book by the AKC at http://lp.akc.org/therapy-dog-ebook/?utm_source=ebook&utm_medium=AKC.org&utm_campaign=E-book%20Therapy%20Dog



There are different registration kits and price points depending on what type of service or support you are registering for your dog.  Most include a certificate, ID card, and vest.  There are many different organizations that you can visit to register your dog and purchase a kit including: 





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