Since August and I had quite the bad experience with our therapy dog training I wanted to do a bit of an educational post. I doubt I’m the only person who didn’t know the difference between a service and therapy dog and what rights (or lack thereof) each one has. For all questions please check out Service Dog Central as they have a wealth of information and are happy to answer any and all questions.
What is the difference between a service and therapy dog?
“Service animals are legally defined (Americans with Disabilities Act) and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered ‘pets’.”
“Therapy animals are not legally defined by federal law, but some states have laws defining therapy animals. They provide people with contact to animals, but are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. They are usually personal pets of their handlers, and work with their handlers to provide service to others. Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in places of public accommodation that have “no pet” policies. Therapy animals usually are not service animals.”
What qualifies as a disability that may require a service dog?
Check out this chart. It clearly walks through the steps of identifying whether an individual has a disability which would qualify for a service dog. Note that protection, emotional support, and companionship do not qualify.
How long does it take to train a dog to become a service dog and at what age should that training begin?
It normally takes 18-24 months to fully train a service dog and training usually begins before they are weaned.
What sort of training does a dog need to become a therapy dog?
To be recognized as a true therapy dog, dog and handler must be registered with a therapy dog organization. There are lots of therapy dog organizations across the country; to find out the most popular organizations in your area call your local hospital or nursing home and ask which organizations they permit.
Dog and handler must pass a test which demonstrates that the dog responds to basic obedience commands and is well adjusted to interacting with adults and children. A test example can be seen here. Through the therapy organization the dog will be covered by insurance and permitted to visit certain hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc with permission. The top organizations are PetPartners and Therapy Dogs Incorporated.
Is it legal for someone who does not have a disability to have a service dog in public?
The short answer…no. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of the individual with the disability. A service dog is legally considered an extension of that individual and that is why they are permitted into public establishments. If the person using the service dog does not actually have the disability for which the dog is trained then the dog no longer falls under the definition of “service dog”.
If you see someone with a dog that is behaving inappropriately or is clearly not a service dog what should you do?
Report it to management.
Basic guidelines to follow if you have a therapy dog.
1. When referencing your therapy dog it’s best to say “My pet who works as a therapy dog…”.
2. Do not take him/her in public where dogs are not invited unless you have asked permission.
3. Do not bring him/her in public with their vest on, even in a dog-friendly place.
4. Only have the dog wear their vest in public if it is an event for the therapy organization.
5. If a person asks to pet your dog, say yes, he/she is not a service dog, please let me make them sit.
6. If people ask if he/she is working, say no, he/she is not a service dog.
Basic Things To Know About Service Dogs and Their Handlers
>>A service dog is there to aide the person with a disability. The “service” the dog is providing could range from mobility assistance, guiding, or assisting with a medical condition. Just because you can’t see the person’s disability does not mean it’s not there. And yes, it’s rude to ask what their disability is.
>>Be prepared to hear “no” if you ask to pet the dog. All service dogs will most likely have a patch on their vest that states “do not pet”. That patch is not there for no reason.
>>Don’t purposefully try to pull the dog’s attention away from its handler. This includes doing things like talking to the dog, making kissy noises, or making hand gestures towards the dog. The dog is there to provide a service and distracting it for even a few seconds could be detrimental to both the dog and handler.
For more information and sources with greater detail check out:
The majority of information here was provided by Service Dog Central and its users.