• Dr. Rhesa Houston

Definition of a Service Dog

What is the difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog?



The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. The disability can be physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or some other mental disability.


How is a service dog defined?


A service dog is a working animal. Although service dogs must be trained to perform certain task related to the individual’s disability, service dogs are not required to be professionally trained. Service dogs are not required to wear a vest, patch or any special harness to identify them as a service dog. Lastly, the ADA does not require any national certification or registration for service dogs.


How is an emotional support dog different from a service dog?


An emotional support dog or "therapy dog” is an animal present for someone who has emotional needs. An emotional support dog may not be classified as a service dog under The American with Disabilities Act. Therefore, emotional support dogs do not have the same rights of access as a service dog. In order to have an emotional support dog legally, the owner must have a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating their need for the animal. This letter protects those with disabilities from housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Authority Act and airline travel discrimination though the Air Carriers Act. The ADA provides no legal support for Emotional Support Animals.


Assistance Animals Consulting is your partner to provide education and training to your organization so you can be compliant and supportive of individuals with disabilities using service dogs.  Let us help you identify and stop service dog fraud.  


To learn more about emotional support, service dogs, and all working animals, contact Assistance Animals Consulting today.

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