Service Dog vs Therapy Dog

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The Differences Between Service and Therapy Dogs

The terms “Service Dog”  and “Therapy Dog” are not interchangeable and should not be used synonymously because the two different types of working dogs perform very different functions and services, and the legal protections and rights afforded to each type of canine vary widely as well.

Additionally, a number of states have laws which both clarify and advance the provisions set forth under Federal Law.

Service Dog vs Therapy Dog

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that a Service dog is a canine that has been specially trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability which substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life functions.

Therapy dogs, on the other hand, are canines that are trained to provide comfort and affection to people in retirement homes, nursing homes, hospices, schools, hospitals and disaster areas, and to people with autism. Therapy Dogs work in animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy, typically alongside their owner/handlers who consider them the canines to be their personal pets.

Therapy dogs are not service dogs 

It is extremely important to emphasize that Therapy Dogs do not have the same rights and legal protections as handlers of Service Dogs.

Therapy dogs do not have the same public access rights afforded to service dogs and it is unethical to attempt to pass off a therapy dog as a service dog for purposes such as flying on a plane or being admitted to a private business or restaurant.

Handlers of Service Dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because of the disability of the handler.

This distinction is paramount because there should be no mistaking the fact that it is the person with a disability, who is protected under the ADA, and not the dog.