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Service, Emotional Support, and Therapy Dogs! Oh My!

Selena Johnson CPDT-KA FDM

Phenomenal Canine Dog Training

Service, Emotional Support, and Therapy Dogs. Oh My!

As the internet grows larger and we have more access to videos, photos, and information, images of service dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs have become widespread. Popular media pages like The Dodo have made viral videos out of these types of animals. Social media influencers have hundreds if not thousands of photos of dogs doing these jobs. Colleges host therapy dog days, airports have their own team of dogs, and more people are seeking out help from emotional support and service dogs.

But what’s the difference and why should we care?


“A service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” This means that the animal must be trained to assist the person and is limited to a dog or miniature horse. No service peacocks or rats are federally recognized in the United States. These dogs can help with a variety of disabilities from blindness to PTSD! A mental disability can qualify for a service dog and does not make them an emotional support animal.

Speaking of emotional support animals, the key difference is that they are not trained and can be almost any reasonable animal. In fact, the ADA does not define what an emotional support animal is. Instead we have to look at the HUD’s Fair Housing Act or FHA. Emotional support animals “provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities (referred to in this guidance as a support animal).” These animals provide routine, comfort, and other non trained services to their disabled owners.

Finally we have therapy dogs, which blur the lines a little. These animals do not require disability status and are not trained specifically for an individual. Their job is similar to an emotional support animal where they provide therapeutic support but you’ll often find them in schools, airports, and even hospitals. These animals must be invited to the location and are there for a short time to make people feel more at ease, regardless of the disability status of the person receiving the service.


A brief overview of the laws for each type of working animal can be summarized in the image below. For more information, you can call the hotline numbers of each government section or visit the links below.

Why should we care?

If you are disabled, it’s important to know the laws surrounding your rights with your service dog or emotional support animal. Being able to cite the law correctly allows you to use services that will help you gain access or fight against discrimination.

If you are not disabled, knowing the laws around service dogs and emotional support animals will help you be an ally to your disabled friends, who are often wrongly denied access. Your voice can make a difference in those moments.

If you wish to make a difference with your dog, check out some of our local AMPP members who are therapy dog instructors. If you’re disabled and are looking into obtaining or training a service dog, reach out and I’m happy to help guide you into what is best for you.

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