Confused Between Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs? Clear Difference Here!

Most of the time, the word service dogs versus therapy dogs are mostly interchanged. But, do you know that these two completely have different roles? Here we will clearly define the difference between the two. To be able to guide you about the roles of a service dog and a therapy dog, we will provide you the details and all the necessary information that you need to know.

To start with, before finding the difference of service dog versus therapy dog, let us define first what is a service animal?


As per the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), this kind of animal is

a dog that undergoes personal training to work a specific task to help a person with physical, mental, intellectual or psychiatric abilities that are compromised.

Restrictions of being a Service Animal

However, strict considerations are present on being an animal in service. See the list below:

  • It is a must that the animal is a dog. As to the update, no more animal is considered for this service except for those mini horses in some cases.
  • Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Dogs are not classified under this category.
  • The dog’s primary duties are to aid the disabled person.
  • A note from a doctor is not valid to qualify a therapy animal or ESA to be a service dog.
  • In general, the dog must accept training that is very specific in guiding the disabled ones.

Things to remember about Service Animal

Always take note that dogs in duty have function that are not only to be a seeing-eye dogs or just simply providing care to the physically disabled. Just like the SSigDOG which is also known as sensory signal dogs or social signal dogs. They undergo training to provide assistance to those with autism. Seizure response canines’ training includes the behavior to warn and protect. They also get help for their human at the onset of a seizure. These examples are functions of service dogs and the ADA covers it all.

Certainly, there are many legitimate service dogs, assistance dogs, and therapy dogs. These dogs excellently do services for their owners. Most of these dogs undergo training.

They legally got certifications with privileges above other dogs. On the other hand, there are the therapy dogs and some dogs that usually assist require not to be trained or be certified. But, these two have different rights.

Also keep in mind that, the establishment’s representatives you visit may have all the right to asked both of you to leave their establishment. Whether it is a service dog or not, if your dog is behaving inappropriately, they can do that.

BREEDnot all breed are qualified; most common breeds are the Labrador, Golden Retriever, and German Shepherdscan be of any type
QUALITIEShandler-focused, desensitized to distractions, and highly trained to do specific tasksstable temperaments, friendly, easy-going, calm, obedient, and socialized
SPECIFIC TASKtrained to pull wheelchairs, others are taught to alert to the sounds of the telephone, oven timers, alarm clocks, smoke alarms, and even a baby’s crytrained to provide affection and comfort to people
TRAININGundergo specialized training under a professional and experienced trainerdo not require to receive specialized training and can be trained by anyone
INVOLVEMENT IN AN INSTITUTIONonly in an individual personpeople in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as those in a disaster areas; may also visit schools, daycares, group homes and rehabilitation centers
PROTECTED BY LAWlegally protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990not mentioned in the Americans with Disabilities Act
PROHIBITED IN THE FOLLOWING AREAScan go in most places the public can go such as restaurants, public transportation, and grocery storesdo not have public access in public areas unless invited

What is an Assistance Dog?

An assistance dog is a type of service dog that functions as a medical device for a person with compromised physical and mental state. This type of dog undergoes special training to do the job every where. They specifically undergo training to do tasks that mitigate the disability of their person.

In some areas in Canada, such as BC and Alberta, the dog needs a certification to gain public access. Usually a collar tag from their government gives the dog public access with their handler. This tag is, at all times, carry by the handler or by the dog. The tag is required to be available for presentation all the times. 

Moreover, the retailers, accommodation, and transportation providers in these areas can ask for the following:

  1. Is this a dog in service?
  2. Can I see your government issued tag to your dog?

On the other hand, in the US, retailers and other service providers can ask the following questions:

  1. Are you physically or mentally compromised?
  2. If so, what specialized program is the dog has undergone?

Furthermore, assistance dog have three types. These types are the following:

Types of Assistance Dog

Guide Dog 

  • this is normally assist the blind or with visual concerns.

Hearing Dog or Signal Dog 

  • this type of assistance dogs assist the deaf or hard of hearing.

Service Dog

  • they generally assist people with compromised physical state by getting objects that are far from them. Or, by drawing wheelchairs, having the doors opened and closed, and switching the lights. They also has training on barking for making warning.
  • Looking for another person and guiding individuals with posture issues to walk are also their task. Many other individual tasks as required by a person with this type of needs are the task of this type of assistance dog.
What is a Service Dog?

Service dog is a dog that is good for one person. They usually perform specific tasks to help that person cope with a disability. This kind of dogs must have the following qualities: handler-focused, desensitized to distractions, and highly trained to do specific tasks. They should keep away their eyes from distractions by the public, as they keep an eye on their owner during working hours.

They give meaning to service dogs as dogs that guide or give signals. Also, it can be other animal which has a proper training to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. For example, training of some dogs includes drawing of wheelchairs. They also teach others to be attentive by the ring of the telephone, timers of the oven, alarm clocks, alarms of smoke detectors, and even a cry of the little ones. Moreover, service dogs are not a sedentary household animals.

Policy and Training for Service Dog

Service dogs help their partners with compromised physical state to attain safety and independence by doing it as a partner. Be reminded that these dogs are not for sedentary household animals as it could be a factor for them to neglect their task and inappropriately execute them. Most service dogs have a policy for this as established by their owners. At no cost, the owner may get a service dog or assistance dog. Moreover, in some cases, the owner may purchase the dog.

Generally, their training can last up to two years before a client have them. Usually, service dogs wear a vest. Working harness or a bandana are worn as well. This is to signify that they has proper training. The vest and working harness also identifies them as a service dog and asks the public not to pet them.

Governing Laws for Service Dog

On the contrary, the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA do not require them to do so. This is because the ADA covers public access for service dogs while they are working. Moreover, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs the use of service dogs in public places.

Persons with compromised physical state usually have their service dogs with them into places where dogs are not allowed. Examples of this places as the public terminals, business establishments, grocery stores, and food establishments. ADA protect the rights of people with disabilities to be guided by their service dogs in such public places.

Furthermore, the term service dog is a broader category of dogs. This includes any dogs that has special training to work in public with their handlers. The word service dogs include the so-called assistance dog, police dog, and even the search and rescue dog. 

What does it takes to be a Service Dog?

To define the difference of a service dog versus therapy dog, let us first identify what does it takes to be a service dog. Service dogs should have everything that it takes to be a therapy dog, in addition for some others. Just an example, particular breeds undergo for specific types of task that he must be capable to do.

In fact, in the United States, the data shows that from 60 up to 70 percent of Labrador retrievers work as guide dogs for people with visual impairment. Next in line with this breed as service dogs are Golden retrievers and also the German shepherds. Their characteristics that qualify them to be a service dog are their behavior, flexibility, size, intellectual ability, and availability.

Further, guide dogs needs to be working hard. Their huge built is good to provide guidance to people wearing protective gear. Otherwise, they should also have small body to monitor them without hassle. They also fit freely on vehicles even under food establishment’s desk.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy Dog refers to a dog that undergo training to provide affection and relaxation to people. Most likely to the hospital patients,nursing and retirement homes, and institutions for mentally compromised individuals. The schools, and stressful situations such as those in a disaster areas are also the place of work of the therapy dog. Generally, therapy dogs are a single dog for all—they bring joy and security to patients in the hospital. They assisted living center and people resides in nursing home, families without a home, and students. They undergo training to let unfamiliar people to mingle with them in order to provide the comfort to an individual.

Responsibilities and Characteristics of a Therapy Dog

The primary functions of a therapy dog are to offer therapy therapy to individuals with psychological or physiological needs more than to their owners. These dogs do not need to have stable behavior, approachable, and cool personalities. Calm, obedient, and socialized to different kinds of individuals are also some of their qualities.

Right conduct and dog obedience are the programs specialized for therapy dogs. These therapy dogs requires to take continuing education workshops. Both the dogs of this type and their owners gets the chance for mingling with each other. They also give affection in a many ways voluntarily. Compared to service dogs, therapy dogs are socialized with different kinds of individual. Even on a working mode, they can perform this act including making pet the therapy dog.

Establishments for a Therapy Dog

These dogs may also go to educational institutions, rehabilitation centers and group homes. Their roles depends on the types of dogs who provide learning to children who are mentally compromised. They also provide the confidence for the kids to read out loud. The chance of the children to actively participate in physical rehabilitation therapy is also given to them. However, other therapy dog works privately in a psychotherapy practice. Unlike service dogs, the therapy dogs can be any type of animal as long as they bring comfort to individuals.

Furthermore, therapy dogs do not need to receive specialized training as that of service dogs. Anyone can train the therapy dogs. But, they must meet the set standards to be certify, register, and actively participate in the program. Generally, their owners can monitor and supervise them. But in some cases, a professional is assigned for these therapy dogs.

Moreover, some dogs assist people who suffer in trauma by events such as mass shootings, bombings etc.  A therapy dog may undergoes training that are specialized by an establishment to do so. Or it may be an individual’s dog who takes the dog into a facility. Unlike service dogs, they are allowed to go to public except for the facilities that offer their approval. There is no existing ADA law that covers the protection with these dogs. Meaning, they can not go in any places that animals are not allowed to enter, like grocery store, restaurants, and on aircraft.

What rights do Therapy Dogs have?

Therapy dogs are not performing jobs as a dogs assisting people. Assistance dogs main task is to guide people. With this, individuals can go in every areas. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 legally protects these dogs.

On the contrary, therapy dogs do not provide direct assistance to humans. But, the Americans with Disabilities Act do not cover their protection. An institution has all the rights to either invite or prohibit a therapy dog from entering their facilities. And usually, this institute has rigorous requirements before allowing these therapy dogs to enter the establishment.

Therapy Dog Training Program

Therapeutic dogs or “therapy dogs” is the most broadly used process of therapy among animals. These dogs offer security, calmness, and indulgence that can go more than the old school types of cure and treatment. Because of this type of dogs, we can say that the power of a dog in healing can be very amazing.

The therapy dogs versus the service dogs cater emotional assistance in elder care institutions and hospitals. Moreover, many seeking therapy dogs assistance to boost the people physically especially those in nursing homes. This is done by rolling a ball, walking outside for a minute, or brushing their hair.


To conclude it all up the guide dog, the service dog, and the hearing dogs are types of assistance dogs. They undergo training to help people with compromised health in performing in their daily life. A therapy dog, on the other hand, provides security and peace of mind to people mostly those in caring facilities, etc. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives protections to an assistance dogs and can go most places the people can go. Whereby, there is no federal laws governing and protecting the therapy dogs. Therapy dogs can go and enter an institution when there is an invitation from an establishment representative.


Confused Between Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs? Clear Difference Here!

by Mr Bigs Mom time to read: 9 min