Service dogs have a long and important history helping people with disabilities. There is extensive confusion about service dogs and service dog terminology.
Service Dogs: Service animals are defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. These dogs typically go through 18-24 months of training. They are trained specific behaviors to assist people that have disabilities. Service dogs may be trained to help people with a wide range of needs including people with hearing or vision impairments, people who have mobility impairments or have mental health disabilities. Service dogs have been trained to help children and adults. People with disabilities who use service animals can use them in places of public accommodation.
Therapy Dogs: You will often find therapy dogs at nursing homes or hospitals making rounds and cheering people up. Therapy dog programs typically conduct an evaluation of the dogs before they participate in therapy work. They are only allowed in places that usually don’t allow pets with special permission.
Emotional Support Animals: They are defined in the Air Carrier Access Act and Fair Housing Act. Just like it sounds, these animals simply provide comfort to people with disabilities. Unlike a service animal they do not need to be trained specific behaviors to help a person. They are only permitted in the cabin of an airplane and in housing (even no pets housing).
People sometimes unfortunately abuse the law and take pets out as service animals. Virginia has passed a law making it a misdemeanor to fraudulently represent a dog as a service animal.
People also often confuse the difference between an emotional support animal, a therapy dog and a service animal. Learn More: