Legislative Action Center

Service, Emotional Support, Therapy Dogs… What’s the Difference?
September 19, 2022 by AKC Government Relations

Here at the American Kennel Club, we value all dogs, whether they are purebred or mixed. We recognize the benefits of dog ownership and the way their presence has an impact on daily life. While pets are very important to the vast majority of the population, some individuals rely on their dogs for even more than companionship. AKC Government Relations has created this one-pager that explains the differences in service, emotional support, and therapy dogs

Service dogs have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability, which can be psychiatric, physical, or both. Common breeds of service dogs are the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd Dogs, and Poodles, due to their trainability and temperament. For individuals who may have allergies, Poodles are a popular choice. If tasks are related to mobility, larger breeds like the German Shepherd make excellent candidates. Medical alert service dogs may be smaller in nature and include breeds like the Papillon. In some cases, mixed breeds with carefully selected attributes may also be used.   

Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide emotional support, well-being, or companionship to individuals. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not consider ESAs service dogs and so owners of ESAs do not receive the same access for these dogs. Emotional support dogs come in all breeds and sizes, and typically do not require specific task training. 

Therapy dogs provide comfort to people in a variety of environments – disaster-scenes, medical facilities, libraries, schools, etc. These dogs are often handled by owners who volunteer their services. 

For more detailed information, click here to view, download, and/or print the Service, Emotional Support, & Therapy Dogs… What’s the Difference? one-pager. This document is posted on the AKC GR’s Service Dog Key Issue page and the GR Toolbox under Advocacy Assistance/ Public Outreach. 

This document is for informational purposes only and should not be used to determine status of a dog. Should you have questions regarding the legal requirements or the status of your dog, call the ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY) or the US Department of Housing & Urban Development at 202-708-1112 (voice) or 202-708-1455 (TTY).

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