If you are thinking of getting a dog to assist you with your disabilities, it is important that you know what types there are and which is right for you. A service dog and emotional support dog are both medically and legally recognized, but differently so. Therefore, you need to understand the differences between them, not only so you can have the right companion, but also so you know the rights you have with each one.

What Is a Service Dog?

A service dog is a canine assistant trained to do specific tasks that you are unable to do otherwise, that are directly linked to your disability, and that are necessary for your survival. Examples of such duties include:

  • Guiding the blind and/or deaf
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Aiding during seizures
  • Retrieving medicine or a phone in an emergency

Some dogs are specifically psychiatric service dogs who offer the same kind of essential, everyday assistance but to those with mental disabilities. Some of the responsibilities these dogs may have include:

  • Guiding a disoriented owner
  • Preventing, interrupting, or redirecting harmful behaviors
  • Discerning between hallucinations and reality
  • Searching a room to ensure it is safe

What Is an Emotional Support Dog?

An emotional support dog differs in that it is not trained to perform particular, mandatory tasks that the handler can’t do on his or her own. Instead, the canine offers support and security to those with emotional and psychiatric disorders, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Panic attacks Phobias

This kind of dog is more than just a pet used for comfort or companionship. The dog must be determined necessary for the person’s mental health by a licensed mental health professional. People who suffer from PTSD can have either a service or emotional support dog depending on their needs.

What Rights Do You Have With Each?

Because service dogs tend to be more recognizable, they are often more easily accepted and accommodated. They are allowed to be in any public place to which you have access. Employees at businesses and other venues may ask that you verify you have a disability and that your dog is for your assistance. They may also ask what specific duties your dog is meant to fulfill for you. They can’t ask, however, for proof that your canine is a service dog or for information regarding what your disability is. It can make interactions go more smoothly, though, if your dog is registered through USA Service Dogs so that he or she has formal gear and certification.

Certain establishments, such as airlines or residential properties that do not allow pets, require you to provide medical documentation (diagnosis and prescription) for your emotional support dog. With either, the only reasons why your dog may not be allowed to enter or stay at a place are for misbehavior, incontinence, or the presence of safety risks and health hazards (such as in an operation room).

What About Therapy Dogs?

Therapy dogs are neither trained to accomplish tasks nor are medically needed and are therefore not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These furry friends usually visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster areas to give affection, comfort, and companionship to groups of people, although they can be owned personally. Permission for therapy dogs to enter any place must be acquired in advance, and further restrictions may apply.

How Do You Choose Which to Get?

Which type you get depends on your physical, mental, and emotional needs and limitations. Now that you know the difference between a service dog and emotional support dog, you can determine which is the right fit for your circumstances. Either way, you and your four-legged attendant are legally protected.