There are 3 main types of Assistance Dogs. Public education is limited when it comes to those 3 types. Sometimes, what owners and handlers are looking for is different from what they think. Review the differences below.
1. Therapy Dogs
Therapy dogs are not service dogs. They do not have the same legal protections as service dogs. It is both unethical and illegal to claim that a therapy dog is a service dog. Despite their differences, therapy dogs are still incredible, and they do require training. Therapy dogs volunteer with their human handlers to visit places, offering support to other humans in need of emotional support. Therapy dogs, and their handlers give their time, energy, and emotional support to help others. Popular spots to visit include hospitals, schools, and assisted living facilities. The level of training a therapy dog will require depends on where the therapy dog will volunteer. For example, some hospitals require that visiting therapy dogs pass their own tests. Some facilities require Public Access Tests (PATs) through independent certification organizations like the AKC or IACP, and others have no formal requirements besides a well mannered, obedient dog. CCAA recommends that therapy dog handlers decide where they want to volunteer, then find out what the location requires for training. Then handlers can set your training goals to work towards meeting those requirements.
2. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are not service dogs. They do not have the same legal protections as service dogs. It is both unethical and illegal to claim that an ESA is a service dog. ESAs do have some legal protections that therapy dogs and pet dogs do not receive. Depending on housing, they may be allowed to live in non-pet-friendly homes. Landlords may require proof of need via a Doctor's letter before granting access to the dog. ESAs used to also have access to airplane cabins. Due to the fraudulent actions of some (claiming dogs and other animals as ESAs who were not or who were poorly behaved), these allowances have been removed for most American airlines. ESAs can be critical in helping humans through mental and emotional distress. Their ability to comfort their humans through their companionship is their defining characteristic. While there is no federal registration or training requirements needed for a dog to be considered an ESA, CCAA encourages owners to train their ESAs to a minimum of the AKC Canine Good Citizen test to ensure their dog is a good ambassador.
3. Service Dogs
Service dogs perform tasks that alleviate their owner's disabilities. Because of their extensive training and (potentially) life saving tasks, service dogs are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Act, and Air Carrier Access Act. They have access to any place their human has access to. "No Pets" policies do not apply to service dogs. Service dogs are not pets. They are considered medical equipment by most legislative bodies. The tasks that service dogs are trained to complete must be directly related to the disability of their owner. While not all disabilities are visible, dogs who provide emotional support, or companionship alone, are not considered service dogs. They must provide a service to their human that medication could not provide, and it must alleviate their human's disability. Examples include seeing eye dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, assistance with mobility and item retrieval. All service dogs require multiple layers of training, starting with socialization and proprioception as puppies to basic and advanced on and off leash training and juveniles, then task and public access training as an adult.