Service Dog vs. Emotional Support Animal. Training & Paperwork

For centuries people have had animals as companions and trained them in a variety of tasks. So it was only natural that when dogs should one day become emotional support and service animals to help people suffering from disabilities and emotional and psychological problems.

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Are emotional support dogs service dogs?

Many people tend to confuse emotional support dogs and service dogs, and there are some good reasons why. Emotional support dogs provide services to their owners in the way of offering them companionship, helping to calm them, and give them love and affection.

Service dogs also provide emotional support to their owners as well. However, just because the two types of dogs have some things in common, that doesn’t mean that an emotional support dog is a service dog. In fact, in the laws, the two types of dogs are very different.

Service dogs can legally go anywhere their owner can go. At the same time, the same is not necessarily true for emotional support dogs.

Difference between an emotional support dog and a service dog

The main difference between emotional support and a service dog is the latter has specialized training to perform specific tasks directly related to their owners/handler’s disability.

Service dogs are trained to help people with hearing and vision problems. Along with those who may have epilepsy, diabetes, or suffer from conditions such as PTSD or Autism.

Service dogs may be trained to function as their owner’s eyes and ears. They may be taught to sense low blood sugar in diabetics, get assistance if their owner is having a seizure, bring medicines, etc. 

An emotional support dog needs no special training (although obedience training is recommended) and provides emotional support to their owner simply by being there.

Service dogs are considered working dogs, while emotional support animals are considered being just pets.

When do you need an ESA and when a service dog?

Emotional service animals (ESA) help people who are physically able to function but have emotional or psychological issues that interfere with major life activities. ESA animals are usually dogs or cats but can be almost any type of pet.

These animals provide people with love and companionship. And, by their very presence, they may help to relieve anxiety, ease depression, help them deal with phobias, and live a more fulfilling life.

A service dog performs specific physical tasks that their owner cannot do themselves.

People who have a physical disability that limits their ability to perform necessary functions associated with daily life or those who have psychiatric issues such as autism and PTSD.

Someone who suffer from these conditions who need help with everyday tasks and want to improve the quality of their life may need a service dog.

Service dog vs. emotional support certification difference

In the US, there is no national service dog registry, and there is no federal law that requires a service dog to be certified or registered. However, some service dog training facilities will register your dog and provide the dog with an ID card harness and vest to identify them as a service dog.

At a minimum, you should get an ID card and carry documentation proving your service dog is a service dog.

ESA animals also require no registration, however for any animal to be considered an emotional support animal, you need an emotional support letter. Sometimes it is called a prescription and often comes from a mental health or treating medical professional.

This letter needs to be written on a medical professional or mental health professional’s letterhead. And contain their license number, where the license was issued and date issued as well as the professionals signature.

The letter also needs to state the condition you have for which you need the emotional support animal. This letter is only valid for a year, so you need to get it renewed every year.

 So, yes, there are no laws obligating pet owners to get a relevant certification. But without the paperwork, you won’t be able to prove that your dog indeed has a specific purpose and rights. 

ESA vs. Service dog training difference

There is a massive difference between the training required for an emotional support animal and a service dog.

There is absolutely no training required for an emotional support animal. However, it is recommended that if the support animal is a dog, it at least has basic obedience training and is socialized.

Service dogs, on the other hand, go through rigorous training that can take anywhere from 6 months to 18 months.

Training begins with a personality and temperament assessment of your dog. The pet then goes through basic obedience training before being trained as a service dog.

Once simple obedience training has been completed, the dog undergoes a more intense learning process.

While no laws are stating what training a service dog needs or how long training should last, the recommendation is that the dog goes through training of 120 hours over 6 months.

30 of those training hours should be spent training the dog in public to get the pet used to street noises, distractions, and the unexpected.

A large portion of the intensive training is to train the dog to perform a specific task that the individual needs the dog to do.

Once the dog has completed training, the dog is then given a public access test to ensure that the dog acts appropriately in public and around strangers while performing his duties.

You can train your service dog yourself, hire a professional, or get a dog from a training facility.

Service dog vs. support dog conclusion

Both service dogs and emotional support dogs help individuals live a better quality of life.

And both perform an essential function for their owners. These dogs enjoy more status in terms of where they go (planes, trains, public buildings, restaurants, and even stay at the rental spaces that do not allow pets).

But service animals have a more crucial role for the owners and require more extensive training and paperwork. 

Credits: thanks for the photo to Canva.

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