No matter how stressful our lives become, the good news is that there is a dog for that. Society has grown more accepting of dogs helping people through difficult situations, from anxiety about air travel to the shock of mass shootings. But often the dogs come with different names or titles: some are service dogs, some are therapy dogs, and some are called emotional support dogs. What is the difference?
The differences are important for both legal reasons and knowing the dog's skill level. Based on the functions that the dogs provide, they can acquire the title that allows them access into various places.
Starting with Service Dogs, these dogs are extremely well-trained to help people with disabilities. Service dogs can help the hearing-impaired or visually-impaired, and they can assist people with psychiatric disorders not only feel calmer but to ease some stressful situations by recognizing some of the physical reactions of their person. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are working animals and not pets. Therefore, they are allowed to accompany their people into restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, and airplanes.
Therapy Dogs also perform a service, but they are not trained to do specific tasks. These dogs are selected and trained to provide emotional comfort to people in hospitals or nursing homes, or to trauma survivors. Some dogs are rescues and have been rescued and retrained, others are specifically bred for the purpose of becoming therapy dogs. These dogs encounter many different people, and are well trained to handle different environments. Within the United States they are often deployed with handlers to different parts of the country to help people in need. The dogs sit with people and get petted. Whatever the person's emotional reaction, the dogs are there to help them feel better.
Emotional Support Dogs are dogs who help people afflicted with specific emotional disorders, such as depression, PTSD, or anxiety. These dogs are not necessarily trained to perform certain tasks - although some are, they do provide a specific service for their people. Like therapy dogs, they provide comfort although they work with one person rather than many different people. The Fair Housing Act states that people with an Emotional Support Animal have the right to live incomes with their animal provided they provide the landlord with documentation from their mental health professional. Training and certification for these dogs has not been standardized, but there is a movement for it to happen as emotional support animals become more common.