Therapy v. Service Dogs- Both Great but Different Tasks
7 April, 2017
therapy v service

Most of us know how therapy and service dogs are helpful to individuals for many reasons. But, for those of us who don’t know the difference, you are not alone. They really do perform different tasks, both helpful but not the same.

Both therapy and service dogs have been shown to help patients suffering with heart failure, autism, dementia, anxiety, and other conditions.

Definition of a Service Dog

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service dogs as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal who is trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. For example, some dogs are trained 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 cry. Service dogs are not considered pets.

Generally, service dogs are permitted to access public places with their owners that are otherwise restricted to dogs. In many cases, service dogs are bred to assist with specific mobility issues or health conditions, such as blindness or an individual who is wheelchair-bound.

Therapy Dogs are geared to helping individuals on a more ‘therapeutic” level

Therapy dogs can help individuals in recovery by providing companionship and encouraging a more active lifestyle.  Even the simple acts of caring for an animal can help someone in recovery focus on positive tasks that take their mind off the struggles of overcoming addiction.  Therapy dogs have also been known to help those in prison and even autistic kids.

Therapy dogs are not always allowed to be with owners in places that are off-limits to pets

People who own therapy dogs also find that going out with their dog enables them to meet new people, which can prevent isolation and loneliness. Most people are naturally attracted to dogs and are likely to approach the dog’s owner to pet the dog and ask about it.  Therapy dog owners are not always allowed to take their dogs with them when they enter a public place that’s off-limits to pets.

Many organizations that train service dogs recommend not training an animal to act as both a service and a therapy dog, as a service dog is specifically trained to ignore the public while it helps its owner. Because service dogs are working animals, they also need down time to ensure they don’t experience burn out or stress overload.

Therapy v. Service Dogs when traveling

When traveling on plane, therapy dogs meet the standard pet-related regulations and restrictions.  Trained service dogs are accepted in the cabin for qualified individuals with a disability. A service animal sits in the floor space in front of the customer’s assigned seat but cannot protrude into the aisles.


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