If you’re thinking about bringing an animal into your life to help you manage your illness or emotional needs, it’s important to know the difference between a service dog vs emotional support dog.
While both are helpful, they fill very different roles, and the rules and laws of access for one can be very different from the other.
That’s why we want to make sure you know exactly what each type of service or support animal is defined as by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Because if you decide to get one, you need to know which kind you’ll need in your life.
Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog
According to the ADA, ‘a service animal is defined as a dog that has 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.’
Let’s get really clear and talk about a few examples:
- A person with vision impairment might have a service dog who performs the task of guiding their handler safely through the home, streets, buildings, etc.
- Someone with diabetes might have a service dog who performs the task of monitoring blood glucose spikes and dips by smelling the handler’s breath and alerting the handler to changes.
- An individual with epilepsy or a fainting condition might have a service dog who performs the task of alerting their handler to imminent episodes and getting the handler to a safe location or position for the episode to occur. The service dog might also perform a specific task related to calming a seizure or bringing the handler back to consciousness after the episode occurs.
- A person with severe panic attacks might have a service dog who performs the tasks of applying deep pressure or physical ‘tactile’ grounding through contact such as licking or cuddling.
By contrast, the ADA defines an emotional support or therapy animal as ‘animals that provide comfort just by being with a person. Because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task, they do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.’
These animals do not perform any task other than to be present and provide the comfort of an emotional bond with their handler.
How the two differ legally
A service dog is legally allowed to enter almost any premise without being banned under the ADA, with the exception of religious institutions and organizations, commercial airlines, or in cases of public health rules, such as allowing the service animal to enter a public pool.
By contrast, emotional support animals are not protected under the ADA, and handlers must check State or local governments to see whether their emotional support animals are allowed to enter public places.
Having said that, whether you’re in a public place with a service dog vs emotional support dog, establishments have the right to request your animal be moved outside if it becomes disruptive to the running of the establishment.
The final breakdown
A service dog must be trained in a specific task that assists its handler with their disability, and can’t be legally banned from most public places.
An emotional support dog is not trained in a specific task that assists its handler with their disability, and can be banned from public places, depending on State and local government laws.
So tell us in the comments…do you have a service animal or emotional support animal, or are you considering getting one? And if you are/do, what role does that animal fill in your life?