Many people get confused between service dogs and emotional support dogs. Both play vital roles but in different ways. This article will clear up the confusion, showing how they differ and why it matters.

Keep reading to find out more!

Differences Between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs

A woman with a disability using a service dog and a man seeking emotional support from his emotional support dog in a public setting.

Service dogs are specially trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities, whereas emotional support dogs provide comfort and emotional support without undergoing specialised training for tasks.

Additionally, service dogs are legally recognised as working animals with specific rights of access, while emotional support dogs do not have the same legal recognition or rights of access.

Definition and purpose

A service dog helps people with disabilities. These dogs have training to do specific tasks for their owner. For example, they can guide someone who cannot see or alert a person who cannot hear well.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sees these dogs as helpers for individuals facing challenges in daily life.

An emotional support dog gives comfort to those with mental or emotional conditions like anxiety or depression. A health professional might prescribe an emotional support animal to help ease one’s feelings of distress.

Unlike service dogs, these animals don’t need special training to perform specific tasks. They offer support through companionship and presence, which can be enough to calm someone down during tough times.

Legal rights and access

Service dogs have legal rights that emotional support dogs do not. Laws like the Fair Housing Act allow service animals to live with their handlers in many homes where pets might not be allowed.

This law helps people with disabilities have their service animals, even in places with no pet policies. The Air Carrier Access Act also lets service dogs travel on planes with their handlers.

People must show that their animal is a trained service dog.

Emotional support dogs do not get the same treatment under these laws. They provide comfort for mental and emotional conditions but don’t have special training to perform tasks. Because of this, they don’t always have access to public places like service dogs do.

Owners of emotional support dogs might find it harder to bring their pets into certain spaces without facing questions or challenges.

Training and skills

Moving from legal rights and access, training and skills mark a key area of distinction between service dogs and emotional support dogs. Service dogs undergo extensive preparation to assist individuals with disabilities.

This includes obeying commands, performing tasks like guiding those with vision loss or detecting signs of an anxiety disorder before it happens. These canines might spend months or even years in training to ensure they meet the needs of their handler accurately.

On the other hand, emotional support dogs do not receive the same level of task-specific schooling. Their main role is to offer comfort and support through their presence, which can help reduce feelings of loneliness or panic attacks in their owners.

While some may learn basic obedience, the focus is more on their ability to provide companionship rather than perform specific duties. Despite this difference in training intensity, both types play vital roles in improving the lives of their handlers.

Role and Responsibilities of Service Dogs

Service dogs perform specific tasks for people with disabilities, such as guiding individuals who are visually impaired or alerting someone with a medical condition. They undergo rigorous training to assist in various areas like mobility, hearing, and medical alerts.

Specific tasks for individuals with disabilities

Service dogs perform essential tasks for people with disabilities. They help those who cannot see by guiding them around obstacles. These guide dogs ensure their human friends safely cross roads and navigate through crowds.

Hearing dogs alert deaf individuals to sounds like alarms, doorbells, or someone calling their name. Mobility assistance dogs fetch items, open doors, and even press buttons for people in wheelchairs.

Medical alert dogs warn about medical issues such as low blood sugar levels or an impending seizure.

For individuals facing mental challenges like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychiatric service animals offer support too. They can interrupt harmful behaviours, remind individuals to take medicine, and provide a calming presence during anxiety attacks or panic disorders.

Each dog is trained specifically to assist with the unique needs of its handler, offering independence and safety.

Types of service dogs (guide, hearing, mobility, medical alert, etc.)

Service dogs are trained to help people with different needs. They can do many tasks to make life easier for those with disabilities.

  • Guide Dogs: These dogs lead the way for people who cannot see. They help their owners move safely from place to place.
  • Hearing Dogs: They alert their owners to sounds, like alarms or someone knocking at the door.
  • Mobility Assistance Dogs: These service animals help people who have trouble moving around. They can pull wheelchairs or help you balance.
  • Medical Alert Dogs: They are trained to sense changes in a person’s body and warn them of a medical issue, such as low blood sugar levels or an impending seizure.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs: These dogs support individuals with mental health conditions by interrupting harmful behaviours or providing deep pressure therapy during anxiety attacks.
  • Autism Support Dogs: For individuals with autism, these service animals provide a calming presence and can interrupt repetitive behaviours or guide them away from stressful situations.

Now let’s look into the roles and responsibilities of emotional support dogs.

Role and Responsibilities of Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs provide comfort and emotional support to their owners, particularly in times of distress or anxiety. They are not legally recognised as service animals but play a crucial role in providing therapeutic benefits to individuals with mental health conditions.

Providing comfort and emotional support

Emotional support dogs give a special type of comfort. They help people with mental or emotional conditions feel better. These animals do not need the same training as service dogs.

Instead, they offer company and relief just by being around. A doctor must say you need one for it to be official.

These dogs can live in homes that usually do not allow pets because of the Fair Housing Act. They can also fly with their owners due to the Air Carrier Access Act. Their main job is to be there for their owner, making hard moments easier.

Next, we will explore why these animals are not seen as service animals under the law.

Not legally recognised as service animals

Emotional support dogs offer comfort to those with mental or emotional disorders like anxiety or depression. These animals do not get the same legal status as service dogs. Laws such for the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act talk about their importance in providing company.

However, they don’t have access rights to public places like restaurants and shops.

People with a diagnosed mental disorder might get a note from a health professional for an emotional support dog. This note helps them live and travel with their animal. Yet, these dogs don’t need special training like service dogs.

The main task of an emotional support dog is simply being there for their owner. They help people feel less alone without doing specific jobs that service dogs are trained for, such as guiding someone who can’t see or hearing for someone who can’t hear.

Therapy dogs vs emotional support dogs

Calm, friendly, and well-trained therapy dogs bring joy and comfort to various settings, such as hospitals, schools, and retirement homes. They are not the same as emotional support animals – often mistakenly thought of as interchangeable.

Emotional support animals offer companionship to individuals with mental or emotional conditions under a healthcare provider’s care. These roles differ significantly from that of therapy dogs due to their specific purpose in providing comfort and support.

Therapy dogs also undergo rigorous training similar to service animals but receive different certifications for their unique role in bringing comfort to those in need. While both serve critical functions, it is essential to understand the distinction between these valuable aspects of animal-assisted therapy before seeking their beneficial effects.

How to Get a Service Dog or Emotional Support Dog

Obtaining a service dog or emotional support dog involves meeting specific requirements, submitting an application, and obtaining the necessary documentation. This process may also include training and associated costs.

To learn more about this topic, continue reading our blog.

Qualifying conditions and requirements

To qualify for a service dog, one must have a disability recognised by the ADA. This involves physical or mental impairments that substantially limit major life activities. The individual seeking a service dog also needs to require assistance with these disabilities.

On the other hand, to obtain an emotional support dog, individuals need a diagnosed mental health condition related to significant impairment in daily functioning. They must obtain an official letter from a licensed mental health professional prescribing the necessity of having an emotional support animal based on their condition and its impact on their life.

The requirements for obtaining a service dog include specific training and skills necessary to assist with the individual’s disability-related tasks. Conversely, there are no specific training or skill requirements for emotional support dogs; instead, they provide comfort and support through their presence alone.

These distinctions in qualifying conditions and requirements reflect the divergent roles these animals fulfil in supporting individuals with different types of disabilities.

Application process and obtaining documentation

To obtain a service dog or emotional support dog, there is a specific application and documentation process. Here are the steps involved:

  1. Consult a healthcare professional to determine if you qualify for a service dog or emotional support dog based on your condition.
  2. Obtain a prescription for an emotional support animal from a licensed mental health professional, which is necessary for obtaining documentation.
  3. Complete the required paperwork provided by certified service dog organisations or emotional support animal registries.
  4. Submit all necessary documentation, including medical records and the prescription, to the appropriate authorities or organisations.
  5. Await approval and certification from the relevant authorities, which may involve an assessment of your eligibility and the dog’s suitability as a service animal or emotional support animal.
  6. Once approved, undergo any additional training recommended by the organisation to ensure that you and your dog are well-prepared for your roles.
  7. Upon completion of training, receive official certification and documentation confirming your dog’s status as a service animal or emotional support animal.

This process aims to ensure that individuals with disabilities or mental health conditions have access to suitable support animals in accordance with legal requirements before moving forward with their roles and responsibilities as service dogs or emotional support dogs.

Training and costs involved

Training and obtaining a service dog or an emotional support dog involves several important considerations. Here are the key details to understand:

  1. Service Dog Training
  • Service dogs undergo rigorous training tailored to their owner’s specific disability, such as guiding individuals with visual impairments, alerting to medical conditions like seizures, or providing mobility assistance.
  • The cost of training a service dog can range from £5,000 to £30,000 depending on the organisation and the complexity of tasks they need to perform.

  1. Emotional Support Dog Training
  • Emotional support dogs require basic obedience training but do not need specialised task-based training like service dogs.
  • Owners can train their own emotional support dogs or seek professional assistance at a cost ranging from £200 to £500 for classes and certification.

  1. Obtaining a Service Dog
  • Acquiring a trained service dog typically involves being placed on a waiting list due to high demand from individuals with disabilities.
  • The procurement process and necessary documentation may take several months, with costs varying based on the organisation providing the service dog.

  1. Obtaining an Emotional Support Dog
  • Getting an emotional support dog requires a licensed mental health professional’s prescription stating that the animal provides therapeutic benefits for a diagnosed mental health condition.
  • There are generally no specific regulations governing where one can obtain an emotional support dog, but adoption fees and initial veterinary care expenses apply.

Understanding these aspects is crucial when considering whether a service dog or emotional support dog is suitable for individual needs.

How to Train Your Dog to Be an Emotional Support Dog

To train your dog to be an emotional support dog, follow these steps:

  1. Understand the Legal Framework
    • Know the laws and regulations regarding emotional support animals in your area.
    • Ensure your dog meets the necessary criteria for becoming an emotional support animal.

  2. Assess Your Dog’s Temperament and Behaviour
    • Determine if your dog has a calm and gentle disposition suitable for providing emotional support.
    • Observe how your dog interacts with people and assess their ability to comfort and provide companionship.

  3. Socialise Your Dog
    • Expose your dog to various environments, people, and other animals from an early age.
    • Enrol them in obedience classes to build their social skills and responsiveness to commands.

  4. Train Your Dog in Basic Commands
    • Teach your dog basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and leave it.
    • Use positive reinforcement techniques like treats and praise to reinforce good behaviour.

  5. Provide Emotional Support Training
    • Train your dog to recognise signs of distress or anxiety in individuals.
    • Teach them how to respond by offering comfort through physical contact or proximity.

  6. Obtain Certification and Documentation
    • Consult a licensed mental health professional to obtain an official letter prescribing your dog as an emotional support animal.
    • Register your dog with a reputable service that provides certification for emotional support animals.

Remember that training takes time, patience, and consistency. By following these steps, you can help prepare your dog for their important role as an emotional support animal.


In conclusion, understanding the differences between service dogs and emotional support dogs is essential. Their specific roles and responsibilities cater to different needs for individuals with disabilities or mental conditions.

Knowing the distinctions, legal rights, and training requirements helps in making informed decisions when seeking assistance from these remarkable animals.


1. What is the difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog?

The main difference lies in their roles: Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with mental or physical disabilities, such as blindness or dexterity problems. Emotional support dogs, on the other hand, provide comfort and companionship to people suffering from mental illnesses like anxiety disorders or major depression.

2. Can any breed be a service dog or emotional support dog?

Yes! Breeds aren’t limited when it comes to these roles. From Belgian Malinois often used as military dogs to Labrador retrievers providing therapy animal services, even horses can serve as therapy animals!

3. Do you need a therapist’s approval for having an emotional support dog?

Yes, you usually need approval from a psychologist or therapist stating that you have a mental disability which benefits from the presence of an emotional support animal.

4. Are there places where service dogs are allowed but not emotional support dogs?

Service dogs generally have more legal protections under reasonable accommodations laws than emotional support animals do. For example, they’re typically allowed in nursing homes and on planes where some companion animals may not be permitted.

5. Can all types of phobias and psychiatric conditions qualify someone for an emotional support animal?

Conditions like ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders often qualify one for having an ESA (Emotional Support Animal). However, this depends on your psychologist’s assessment of your condition.

6. Does training vary between service dogs vs comfort animals?

Absolutely! Service Dogs undergo rigorous training – they might learn odour detection if they’re bloodhounds aiding in search & rescue missions; while ESAs don’t require formal training beyond basic good behaviour.