Service/Assistance Dogs and Pet Dogs





What is the Difference Between Therapy, Assistance and Service Dogs

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 DogsAssistance 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

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.

Assistance Dogs are often referred to as ‘Service Dogs’, a term more commonly used in North America. They are a working animal, highly trained for disability support. They must pass a strict Public Access Test which is assessed by a qualified Canine Behaviourist. Assistance Animals have public access rights and are now protected by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Australia).

Who Regulates the Law for Assistance Dogs in Australia?

In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (commonly referred to as theDDA), section 9 sets out the legal definition of an assistance animal like a dog or other animal that:

(a)is accredited under a State or Territory law to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effects of disability; or
(b)is accredited by an animal training organisation prescribed in the regulations; or
(c)is trained to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effect of the disability and meets standards of hygiene and behaviour that are appropriate for an animal in a public place.

This legislation only overrides other dog legislation in such a way that people are allowed access with these dogs when they would not normally be allowed. Handlers must not be treated any differently because they are accompanied by a dog.

Because variation among states and territories regarding accreditation and regulation of assistance animals exists, travel may pose additional confusions and challenges for handlers. It is advised that before you travel, you familiarize yourself with the regulations for the places you intend to travel to.

The Department of Agriculture requires that institutions for assistance dog training are members of the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) or Assistance Dogs International (ADI). Alternatively, the dog may be accredited under the law of an Australian State or Territory that provides for the accreditation of animals trained to assist a person with a disability. This means that an animal may be qualified as an assistance animal under the DDA if it has received relevant training, regardless of who has provided the training, and provided they meet the criteria.

What is the Best Resource for more Information on Accredited Programs?

The rules and regulations from each country are different, but with the help of two global leaders in providing accredited programs, you will be able to find local links and resources by visiting their websites.

Assistance Dogs International, Inc. (ADI) is a worldwide coalition of non-profit programs that train and place Assistance Dogs. Founded in 1986 from a group of seven small programs, ADI has become the leading authority in the Assistance Dog industry.



Public Awareness

While Assistance Dogs and Therapy Dogs help their human companions navigate life a little easier there are still many challenges for their handlers. The public needs to recognize that these animals are on the clock, working to aid their humans and must not be distracted. Assistance Dogs should not be petted (unless you have the express permission of the person handling the dog) but even this we discourage as the handler may feel obliged when they would much prefer to say 'no'. The dog is a medical necessity and their focus needs to be directed on their persons. Therapy Dogs that visit public institutions job is to socialize and serve as ambassadors, providing stress relief and comfort to those they meet during their visits. These dogs and handlers are happy to spend time with you. It is important to know the difference between an Assistance Dog and a Therapy Dog, but when in doubt admire from a distance.

One of the largest struggles for Assistance Dogs and their handlers has been the recent rise of improperly, poorly trained or unqualified dogs being passed off as Assistance Dogs. It appears some unscrupulous people feel that they can pass off their pet as a service dog as a way to take them wherever they go. This is not a privilege to use to take your pet with you and is reserved for those who require it. The internet has made purchasing fake vests and identification readily available. These dogs and their owners do a great disservice to the industry and put the public at risk. Many countries have large fines and even jail time for those convicted of faking Assistance Dogs. The legislation is in place to provide protection for access to those who legitimately the aid of a service dog.

TheInternational Guide Dog Federation(IGDF) is the industry-elected body responsible for the development, monitoring and evaluation of the standards applied within all IGDF-member organisations, and to which all Enquiring and Applicant organisations aspire, to ensure equity of high-quality service to guide dog users and handlers around the world.

Written by Katie Shannon for Friendly Dog Collars

image1.jpegAslo look at the NZ Service dog Information Page.


How to Make Your Dog a Service Dog

More than 26 million Americans are living with some form of disability, and 1 in 4 Americans struggle with mental health challenges. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of Americans living with disabilities, including the right to have a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal. 

There are more than 500,000 Service Dogs and countless more Emotional Support Animals helping Americans with physical and emotional challenges. The ADA gives Service Dogs access to almost all the same spaces at people, allowing Americans with disabilities or mental health challenges to have the support they need with them at all times. 

Benefits of Canine Companionship

There are so many benefits to having dogs in our lives; from keeping us active and healthy to supporting our mental health and social lives, our dogs provide all kinds of support. 

Dogs are good for us – they keep us active and healthy, help us be calmer and more mindful, and make us more social and less isolated. For those living with a disability or mental health challenge, canine companionship can be truly lifesaving. 

Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals can perform a wide range of impressive tasks to support their human. Dogs can be trained to alert their handler to a medical alert, like low blood sugar or a seizure. Dogs can also support people struggling with PTSD, anxiety and other mental health challenges by increasing self-esteem and reducing isolation, and even providing tactile support during panic attacks.  

There are no nation-wide standards for registering your dog as a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal, but there are some basic guidelines to follow to determine if you qualify for a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal, properly train your dog to support you, and obtain the necessary documentation. 

Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Animal

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between a Service Dog and an Emotional Support Animal. 

There is a difference between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals.

The ADA defines a Service Dog as any dog trained to perform a task for the benefit of a person with a disability. You must have a qualifying disability to be able to register your dog as a Service Dog. If you don’t have a qualifying disability, you may still be able to register your dog (or other pet) as an Emotional Support Animal if you struggle with a mental health challenge (a doctor’s note might be required). 

If you’re not sure whether you qualify for a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal, read on to learn more about the difference between the two classifications of support animals. 

Service Dog

Service Dogs help people with disabilities perform tasks that they can’t do on their own.

Under the ADA, Service Dogs are allowed to accompany their handlers anywhere the general public is allowed to go, including government buildings, nonprofits and businesses. The ADA also protects the individual with a disability from discrimination, and forbids staff from asking about the individual’s disability. They are only allowed to ask limited questions to confirm that the dog is a Service Dog – like if the dog is a Service Dog, and what task the dog has been trained to perform. 

To qualify for a Service Dog, an individual must have a qualifying disability that causes significant difficulty with at least one life-task, such as walking, seeing, or hearing. The Service Dog must be trained specifically to do something the individual with the disability cannot do themselves. Common tasks performed by Service Dogs include assisting vision or hearing impaired individuals in navigating, or alerting a diabetic to low blood sugar or an epileptic to an oncoming seizure.

Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

Emotional Support Animals help people with mental health challenges feel more comfortable and less isolated.

If an individual does not have a qualifying disability, they may still be able to register their dog as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). Emotional Support Animals do not have the full access to public spaces that Service Dogs do, but they do have some legal protection under the ADA. ESAs are allowed in pet-free housing, and can fly with their handlers. Many businesses and other public spaces, and even some workplaces, have flexible policies for Emotional Support Animals. 

To qualify for an Emotional Support Animal, an individual needs to have a mental health challenge which has been documented by a doctor or mental health professional. Emotional Support Animals can provide comfort and support to individuals dealing with PTSD, anxiety, depression, or cognitive disorders. 

Training a Service Dog

There are no training standards for Service Dogs, but experts estimate that is takes up to 120 hours to properly train your dog to act as a Service Dog. At least 30 of those training hours should be done in public areas with distractions. 

You have many options when it comes to training your dog to be a Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal. 

You have many options when it comes to training your dog to become a Service Dog. If you are looking for a dog specifically to be a Service Dog, you can purchase a puppy that has already been trained through a Service Dog organization.

If you already have a dog in your life, you can still turn them into a Service Dog with some focused training. You can find trainers who specialize in Service Dog training, and will either work with you and your dog, or train your dog for you. Working together helps you bond with your dog, which will make it easier for them to perform their job. 

You can also train your dog to be a Service Dog yourself. If you have the time and patience, do some research and follow a goal-focused program, you can successfully train your dog to perform Service Dog jobs yourself. There are countless resources available to help you with your training program, like the expert-recommended book “Training Your Own Full Potential Service Dog”. 


Before you embark on your Service Dog training, you should ensure that your dog is fit and healthy enough to perform the job. Take them for a vet check up to ensure they are in good shape and up to date on all the vaccines they’ll need to accompany you everywhere. Older dogs especially should be in good shape before becoming a Service Dog. 

Best Breeds for Service Dogs

Labs are a popular breed for Service Dogs, bu any breed can make a good Service Dog with proper training. 

Any breed can make a great Service Dog, and any animal can be an Emotional Support Animal (there are even Emotional Support Snakes!). 

Shepherds, Retrievers and Labs are popular breeds for Service Dogs due to their trainability and temperament. Larger dogs are best for individuals with mobility issues, but small dogs can perform Medical Alert tasks and may be more convenient as Emotional Support Animals. 

Commands & Tasks

Service Dogs can be trained to perform a wide variety of tasks. The specific tasks that you’ll train your dog to perform will depend on the support that you need. 

In addition to specific support tasks, Service Dogs should be well-behaved and follow basic commands. 

That said, there are some general commands and tasks that all Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals should be able to perform with ease. 

  • Heel: All Service Dogs should always maintain their relative position to their handler. 
  • Proofing: A Service Dog should always be alert for commands, not distracted or sniffing around. 
  • Calmness: Service Dogs must always been calm in public and focused on performing their job. They should be able to avoid getting overexcited by other dogs or people. 

Once your aspiring Service Dog can Heel and show proofing behaviour even when facing distractions, it’s time to move on to Tasking. Tasking refers to the specific assistance tasks that the Service Dog will perform. There are many different tasks that Service Dogs can do, but the specific tasks that you’ll train your dog to perform will depend on your support needs. 

Some common Service Dog tasks include:

  • Medical Alert: Alert a person to a medical issues, like low blood sugar or a seizure
  • Tactile Support: Provide deep pressure therapy
  • Blocking, Mobility and Guidance: Guiding vision or hearing impaired people or protecting a person’s space
  • Emotional Support: Calming people during panic attacks or overstimulation

The list of tasks that Service Dogs can perform is truly endless, but you can customize your training program to meet your needs. 


Although by law you only need to verbally confirm that your dog is a Service Dog, having documentation or a Service Dog vest can make explanations easier.

There is no standardized certification process for Service Dogs in the US – if fact, you aren’t even required to register your Service Dog. There are some general guidelines and best practices to follow to ensure your Service Dog is well-trained and to avoid possible issues in public. 

Once you’ve trained your dog to perform tasks for you, you can complete a Public Access Test to prove that they are fit to be in public spaces with people. During this test your dog will need to show that they can remain calm and not get overexcited, beg for food or attention, or show any aggression. 

Although certification is not required, and the ADA protects individuals from being questioned about or discriminated against due to a disability, some businesses and employers may request documentation to prove that your dog is a trained Service Dog. 

Once you’ve confirmed that your dog is a service dog, either verbally or with documentation, accommodations must legally be made for you and your Service Dog. Obtaining a certificate or registration card or having your dog wear a Service Dog vest can make these conversations easier, but you also have the right to stand your ground and provide only verbal confirmation that your dog is a Service Dog. 

Making Your Dog a Service Dog

Canine companionship is good for us, especially for those of us with a disability or mental health challenge. 

More than a quarter of Americans suffer from a disability or mental health challenge, and more than 500,000 Service Dogs and countless more Emotional Support Animals help those individuals every day. 

The ADA protects people with disabilities and gives legal protection to Service Dogs and, to a lesser extent, Emotional Support Animals. However, Service Dogs are fairly unregulated and there is no requirement to certify or register your Service Dog. 

A Service Dog needs to be calm and able to avoid getting overexcited around people and other dogs. Service Dogs can be trained to perform countless tasks, including mobility-related assistance, guidance, medical alert and emotional support. 

You can purchase a trained puppy from a Service Dog organization, pay a trainer to work with your dog or both of you together, or train your dog yourself. The important thing is that your dog remains focused while working, behaves in public and ignores distractions, and can assist you with tasks that you struggle with. 

The benefits of canine companionship are huge for all dog owners, but individuals with physical or emotional challenges can benefit even more so from the love and support that dogs can provide. 




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