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Difference Between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs

service dog

Service dogs and emotional support dogs both play crucial roles in supporting individuals with disabilities or mental health conditions, but they serve different functions and have distinct legal rights and responsibilities. Let's explore the differences between these two types of assistance animals and understand their respective roles in providing support and companionship to their owners.


1. Definition and Purpose: Service dogs are specially trained to perform specific tasks to assist individuals with disabilities. These tasks may include guiding individuals who are blind or visually impaired, alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving objects, providing balance support, or detecting medical emergencies such as seizures or diabetic episodes. In contrast, emotional support dogs provide comfort and companionship to individuals with mental health conditions but are not trained to perform specific tasks.

2. Training and Certification: Service dogs undergo extensive training to perform their designated tasks reliably and safely. They must meet stringent standards set by accredited service dog organizations and pass rigorous training programs. In contrast, emotional support dogs do not require specialized training or certification. While some owners may choose to enroll their emotional support dogs in obedience classes or therapy dog programs, it is not a legal requirement for them to do so.

3. Legal Rights and Protections: Service dogs are afforded broad legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This federal law allows individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs in public places, including restaurants, stores, hospitals, and public transportation, regardless of pet policies. Service dogs are also permitted to accompany their owners in housing that prohibits pets under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Emotional support dogs, on the other hand, are not granted the same legal access rights as service dogs. While they may be allowed in housing under the FHA, they do not have the same public access rights as service dogs under the ADA.

4. Role and Function: The primary function of a service dog is to perform specific tasks to assist their handler with daily activities or mitigate the effects of their disability. These tasks are directly related to the individual's disability and are tailored to their specific needs.

In contrast, emotional support dogs provide therapeutic support through their presence and companionship. While they may offer comfort and alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, they are not trained to perform specific tasks to address the individual's disability.


In summary, service dogs and emotional support dogs serve distinct roles in supporting individuals with disabilities or mental health conditions. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks to assist their handlers with daily activities or mitigate the effects of their disability, while emotional support dogs provide comfort and companionship to individuals with mental health conditions. Understanding the differences between these two types of assistance animals is essential for ensuring that they receive the appropriate training, legal protections, and support to fulfill their respective roles effectively.

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