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The Difference Between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs & Emotional Support Dogs

Do you know the difference between a service dog, a therapy dog and an emotional support dog? They may behave the same but they do have their differences. Lets dig deeper. Can they all get into the same places? Do they all have the same rights? There are three types of dogs and each have their own roles, rights and responsibilities in the lives of people they help. Here are the differences.

Service Dogs

A service dog is a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, such as visual and hearing impairment, developmental disability, mental illness (i.e. post traumatic stress disorder - PTSD), seizure disorder, mobility impairment and diabetes. A service dog must be able to accomplish the task their owners are unable to complete themselves. Other than guide dogs for the blind, here is how service dogs help with different types of disabilities:

  • Trained PTSD dogs are able to provide an added sense of protection and identify anxiety symptoms. For example they will make a person focus on them in large crowds or awaken someone having nightmares.​

  • Diabetes dogs are trained to use their highly sensitive scent capabilities to identify and detect the blood sugar levels through the scent of human sweat, and alert their owner before levels drop too low.

  • ​Seizure trained dogs assist their handlers by keeping them safe during and after a seizure. They bark and alert caretakers when handlers are experiencing a seizure and prevent them from injury. Some dogs are trained to activate an alarm, fetch medication or a phone.

Why You Must Not Pet Service Dogs

Some people might assume service dogs are pets. They are certainly not and considered working animals. Whenever you see a service dog on duty, just like this one here, please do not pet it. Petting a working dog may distract it from providing the crucial support the handler needs.

Service dogs are allowed inside businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, medical clinics, hotels, theatres, concert halls and sport facilities. Privately owned businesses that serve the public are prohibited from discriminating against disabled people with certified service dogs.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs provide psychological or physiological comfort to individuals other than their handlers. They provide comfort and affection to people in hospice, hospitals, schools, colleges, prisons, institutions and even to the homeless. They do not have to undergo specific training to be a therapy dog. However, they need to be obedient, have up-to-date health checks and be well-groomed.

Therapy dogs have stable temperaments, are friendly and have easy-going personalities. When people pet/play with therapy dogs, it has proven to lower blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, stress and increase feel-good hormones like endorphins and oxytocin.

Watch Video: Therapy Dogs vs. Service Dogs

Therapy dogs do not have the same access rights to businesses like Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs. They are not allowed in places where there are “NO-PET” policies.

If you wish to train your dog as a therapy dog, you may want to do the following:

  • Socialize your dog to new people, places and things

  • Complete obedience training with commands like "look" and "leave it" in addition to teaching them to not jump on people

  • Enrol your dog in a therapy dog class

  • Register your dog with a national therapy dog organization

Want to know more about how your dog can become a Therapy Dog? Visit our therapy dog program and check requirements and how to certify.

Emotional Support Dogs (ESD)

Emotional Support Dogs provide comfort and support in forms of affection and companion-ship for an individual suffering from various mental and emotional conditions such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Panic attacks

  • Separation Anxiety

  • Personality Disorder

There is no formal training for an ESD but there are characteristics you should look for such as:

  • it should be devoted to you and be responsive to your emotions and commands

  • it should be calm and gentle

  • dog-breeds that are people oriented i.e. Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Poodles, Wheaten Terriers, Pugs and King Charles Cavalier Spaniels.

ESDs do not have access to public areas but are protected under federal law. There are two legal protections:

  1. They can fly with a person who has an emotional or psychological disability.

  2. They can qualify for no-pet housing.

This chart summarizes the 3 types of support dogs:

What did you think about service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support dogs? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your comments below and let us know!

About the Author

Having emigrated from Malaysia, Ei Leen graduated with a BA in Communications from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and is now working in Marketing and Social Media. She is a firm believer in the true love that dogs bring their human companions and wants to share her passion with others. In her free time Ei Leen plays the piano and the violin and enjoys going to plays at the theatre.


Our PET EVENTS focusing on Mental Health Wellness have proven that interacting with affectionate dogs can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, lower blood-pressure and even decrease the perception of pain. These petting sessions offer students and staff who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, the opportunity to increase socialization through interaction with dogs and people in a relaxing setting.


Do you have a gentle well-behaved dog who loves people and is nice to other dogs? You may want to find out about joining our Therapy Dog Program. Check our Requirements to see if you are a right match and contact us. Let's see whether your dog would be suitable to work as a Therapy Dog providing love and comfort to people in need in your community!

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