People often ask, what’s the difference between service dogs and therapy dogs? While both provide essential assistance, service dogs and therapy dogs are not one and the same. Oftentimes, these phrases are used interchangeably, but we’re here to tell you exactly how service dogs and therapy dogs are different.
Service dogs are trained to assist individuals with specific disabilities, while therapy dogs offer joy and comfort through the kind of affection that only a dog can give. According to Assistance Dogs International (ADI), service dogs are “for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing.” These dogs are trained to perform a variety of tasks, such as pulling a wheelchair, opening doors, retrieving objects, or alerting individuals to a medical crisis and providing assistance during that medical crisis, among many other things. While both service and therapy dogs provide relief and companionship, service dogs are for people with recognized mental and psychiatric disabilities.
Service dogs are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are considered working dogs, not pets. This allows them to enjoy a list of benefits that includes the ability to enter restaurants, stores, and other public places and fly in the cabin of an airplane. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are not allowed the same privileges unless they receive special permission.
Therapy dogs are generally someone’s friendly and good-tempered pet. These dogs receive specific training that differs greatly from what service dogs go through. They often visit hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and schools. Sometimes they even participate in various physical rehabilitation therapy. Therapy dogs provide love and comfort and often boost the confidence of children, students, adults, and seniors alike. Therapy dogs and service dogs often wear vests, though it isn't mandatory.
The dogs who work as service dogs and therapy dogs are amazing animals. It’s helpful to understand the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog for a number of reasons, one being that you know how to interact with these dogs when you meet one.
If you encounter either a service dog or a therapy dog, make sure to ask before you pet. While both are friendly, both have specific jobs and tasks. As mentioned before, service dogs are working animals which often means they shouldn’t be petted. You may even see them wear service dog patches that say "Ask To Pet Me, I'm Friendly" or "Please Don't Pet Me, I'm Working".
To both service and therapy dogs, and their incredible owners, hats off to you.