The Difference Between Service & Therapy Dogs

A therapy dog, pictured on left, visiting a hospitalized patient while a service dog, pictured on right, helping his handler.
A therapy dog, pictured on left, visiting a hospitalized patient while a service dog, pictured on right, helping his handler.

Which is which? What makes a Service Dog different than a Therapy Dog? Well, I thought I’d discuss this question in a little bit of detail in this week’s blog because I know it can be quite confusing looking at all the dogs out there with capes and tags, vests with patches, dogs riding on public transportation or visiting people in hospitals. Don’t worry! I am here to help decode all of this for you!
A Service Dog is a dog that is specifically trained to help an individual with tasks they are not able to perform on their own without great difficulty. To name just a few, Service Dogs can be trained to help hearing impaired individuals, assist an individual with limited mobility issues, help guide the visually impaired, alert an individual with a medical condition such as seizures or diabetes to an oncoming episode, help those suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and children with Autism. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), only dogs are recognized as service animals and there unfortunately isn’t any required testing for said title. However, the best organization that is trying to oversee the training and qualifications of service dogs is Assistance Dogs International (ADI). They have created guidelines and assessment tests for all service dogs being trained and placed by accredited organizations.  The ADA states that service dogs must be allowed in most places the handler goes with very few exceptions (i.e. surgery rooms). There is a great page on Facebook, The ProBoneO,  that allows anyone to post a question regarding service dog laws and requirements that I encourage you to check out should you have access issues with rental agencies, business establishments, etc. Also, if you are paired with  a service dog, I recommend checking out International Association of Assistance Dog Partners.

For those of you who knew Lasher, you know he was a Service Dog and provided mobility support for me for several years. He past the ADI Access Test and was trained to perform a few cues that enabled me to stand when my leg became unsteady, to get up off the floor if there wasn’t a person or chair around, and to help me walk when the pain in my leg was unbearable. Lasher would either wear a vest that clearly labeled him as a service dog or a leather brace (mobility support) with an identifying I.D. tag. I also carried these cards (pictured below) on me to explain how Lasher assisted me and the laws of the ADA should I be stopped by a business owner or curious citizen. I rarely had any difficulties taking him anywhere even though he was a 90 lb, pure white, German Shepherd because he was very obedient, quiet, calm and acted as a service dog should – never known they’re there until they are seen.

Cards I carried to describe what Lasher was and my rights to have him accompany me.
Cards I carried to describe what Lasher was and my rights to have him accompany me.

Therapy dogs are NOT service dogs and do not have the same rights. Therapy dogs provide a service to many people by visiting hospitals, convalescent homes, children’s libraries, assisting in children’s court cases and more. I think the most important fact to share is therapy dogs do not have the same public access right as service dogs. They are not allowed in stores, restaurants, doctor’s offices, etc. If you are interested in having your dog evaluated for this great program, I recommend contacting a local Love on a Leash chapter. It is so rewarding to see your dog bring a smile to a stranger’s face and brighten their day just by walking in to the room or being able to run their hands over your dog’s fur. I participated in this program with Lasher for a little bit and I can’t tell you how great I felt after visiting the convalescent home down the street from my house. Especially after we would perform our weekly “tricks” for the Alzheimer ward.

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