Unveiling the Difference Between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs

In the realm of assistance animals, two terms often surface: service dogs and emotional support dogs. While both play crucial roles in supporting individuals with specific needs, it’s essential to understand the distinctive purposes and functions that set them apart. This blog post aims to shed light on the differences between service dogs and emotional support dogs, emphasizing their unique roles and the specific benefits they bring to their handlers.

service dog in store

First, let’s take a look at Service Dogs:

Task-Oriented Assistance:

Service dogs are highly trained to perform specific tasks that directly assist individuals with disabilities. These tasks can range from guiding individuals with visual impairments to alerting those with hearing impairments to sounds like doorbells or alarms.

 Legal Recognition:

Service dogs have legal recognition and are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States. This means they are allowed access to public spaces, including restaurants, stores, and public transportation, alongside their handlers.

Training and Certification:

Service dogs undergo rigorous training to ensure they can perform tasks that mitigate their handler’s disability. Certification and training standards vary, but a well-trained service dog typically demonstrates a high level of obedience and task-specific skills.

Handler-Specific Assistance:

Service dogs are individually trained to address the unique needs of their handlers. Whether it’s providing stability for someone with mobility issues or alerting a diabetic person to changes in blood sugar levels, service dogs are tailored to their handler’s requirements.

Task oriented service dog

Now let’s look at Emotional Support Dogs:

Emotional Support:

Emotional support dogs provide comfort and emotional assistance to individuals dealing with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their presence helps alleviate symptoms and offers emotional support. Emotional support animals are there to provide a purpose for individuals who struggle with mental health. 

No Specific Training Requirements:

Unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs are not required to undergo specific task-oriented training. However, they should exhibit good behavior and not pose a threat to others. Having emotional support dogs certified as a Canine Good Citizen is a great place to start. 

Legal Protections:

While emotional support animals are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) they do not have the same level of public access rights as service dogs. Recently airlines made the difficult decision to no longer allow emotional support animals on airplanes.

Prescribed by a Mental Health Professional:

To qualify for an emotional support animal, individuals must obtain a letter from a licensed mental health professional prescribing the need for such support. This letter serves as documentation for housing. 

Emotional support dog
PTSD support dog


In summary, the key difference between service dogs and emotional support dogs lies in their purpose and training. Service dogs are task-oriented, providing specific assistance to individuals with disabilities, while emotional support dogs offer comfort and companionship to those with mental health conditions. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for ensuring proper treatment, legal rights, and societal acceptance for both types of assistance animals.