For hundreds of years, dogs have long been considered man’s best friend. Our relationships with canines have evolved over the years from serving humans in a myriad of tasks to be our loyal companions, even considered family. Dogs are highly intelligent, trainable and adaptable. Therefore, dogs have been chosen as the most popular animal to assist humans in an official capacity. No doubt, Assistance Dogs and Therapy dogs are both beneficial to the humans they help. However, a lot of confusion exists as to the differences between Therapy Dogs, Assistance Dogs, and Service Dogs.
What Sets Them Apart?
The most notable difference between therapy and assistance dogs is their classification under legislation. Assistance Dogs are considered a medical aid, specifically trained to assist a person with disabilities. They are given additional permissions and protections under the law than pet dogs. Therapy Dogs are pets, and while they may offer therapeutic support, are not considered a medical necessity. Therapy Dogs are not required to meet any legislated standards, while Assistance Dogs are required to meet behaviour and hygiene standards.
Therapy Dogs are used in animal-assisted activities, providing therapy and education. They are usually handled by their owner and provide comfort and affection to people in long-term care, hospitals, retirement homes, schools, mental health institutions, and other stressful situations. A Therapy Dog can access places like schools, hospitals, and retirement homes for their visits, but do not have full access to public spaces under the law. Therapy Dogs are beneficial for boosting morale and have a positive psychological effect on the recipients.
Emotional Support Animals
Similar to a Therapy Dog is an Emotional Support Dog (abbreviated to ESA). An ESA may support a person through depression, anxiety or other medical conditions, but this does not mean that the animal is specifically trained to do so. Emotional Support Animals are not recognised under Australian law and therefore do not have the same public rights access an Assistance Dogwould.
Assistance Animals and Service Dogs
As their name suggests, Assistance Dogs are trained to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effect of the disability, perform everyday activities, have increased mobility, and to be more independent. Traditionally, Assistance Dogs have predominately been recognised as a ‘guide dog’ for the blind, or people with a vision impairment. However, they can also aid those who require physical support for mobility or other functional tasks; are deaf or have hearing impairments; people who experience episodic or serious medical crisis; and people who experience psychiatric disorders.