There is a lot of confusion about the difference of these three working animals, and Mel fields calls on a regular basis with questions about these.
ESAs – Emotional Support Animals – provide comfort to their owners who have a disability. The owner needs to have a letter from a medical professional but the dog needs no training beyond that required to not stress the owner with poor behavior. They simply need to have a bond with the owner. (Beware of scams: plenty of people on the Internet would love to sell you a useless certificate, registration, and/or vest. These are unnecessary.)
Therapy Dogs go out into the community and provide social support and emotional comfort to people who are not their family. These dogs need advanced training to help them stay safe as they work and help keep the community safe, as well. Many therapy dogs are tested and registered with national organizations.
Service Dogs are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks to alleviate their owner’s disability. These dogs need highly advanced training which can be very expensive and take a year or more to complete. They do not need to be registered or certified. (Beware of scams: plenty of people on the Internet would love to sell you a useless certificate, registration, and/or vest. These are unnecessary.)
Below is a table to help you see the differences. If the attribute applies to that type of dog, the box is marked with an X.
IT IS ILLEGAL TO PASS OFF ANY DOG WHO IS NOT A SERVICE DOG AS A SERVICE DOG.
|Emotional Support Animal||Therapy Dog||Service Dog|
|Owner has disability||X||X|
|Dog provides comfort to others||X|
|Must tolerate a wide variety of experiences||X||X|
|Exempt from “No Pets” housing restrictions||X||X|
|Specially trained to perform specific tasks to help one person||X|
|Need an ID card and certificate||NO||If registry requires||NO|
|Can go into public buildings||X|
|Needs advanced training||X||X|
|Wear a vest||No||If registry requires||If owner prefers|
|Only certain breeds allowed||No||No||No|
|Considered a pet||X|
More information: https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html