Regarding assistance animals, two terms often used interchangeably but have distinct roles and functions are service dogs and therapy dogs.
While both types of dogs provide support and companionship to individuals, they serve different purposes and have specific training and certification requirements.
Let’s explore the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs, shedding light on their unique roles, the benefits they offer, and the types of dogs that excel in these roles.
What is a Service Dog?
A service dog is a highly trained canine companion specifically trained to assist individuals with disabilities. These dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that help their handlers overcome physical, sensory, psychiatric, or other disabilities. Service dogs can aid people with mobility limitations, visual or hearing impairments, medical conditions like diabetes or epilepsy, and mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
To become a service dog, these canines undergo rigorous training programs to ensure they can perform their tasks reliably and safely. The training focuses on obedience, task-specific skills, and public access manners. Service dogs learn to respond to various commands, such as retrieving objects, opening doors, alerting to sounds, guiding their handlers, or providing stability during mobility. They are also trained to remain calm and well-behaved in various environments and situations.
When it comes to selecting breeds for service dog roles, certain qualities are desirable. Dogs that are intelligent, trainable, and eager to please are often chosen. Common breeds that excel as service dogs include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Standard Poodles. These breeds possess the necessary intelligence, physical ability, and temperament to fulfill the demanding tasks required of service dogs. However, it is important to note that individual dogs of various breeds can also succeed as service dogs based on their unique characteristics and training.
What is a Therapy Dog?
Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are not individually trained to assist a specific person with a disability. Instead, therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort, affection, and emotional support to people in various settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, or disaster areas. These dogs work alongside their handlers, who are usually volunteers, to promote healing, reduce stress, and improve the well-being of individuals they interact with.
Therapy dogs undergo training to develop excellent temperaments and social skills, enabling them to interact calmly and positively with people of all ages and backgrounds. They must also pass assessments to ensure they are well-behaved and adaptable to different environments and situations. The training focuses on teaching therapy dogs to remain calm and gentle, follow basic commands, and engage in therapeutic activities that provide emotional support.
When it comes to selecting breeds for therapy dog roles, dogs that have a friendly and gentle nature are preferred. Breeds that are known for their calm temperament, good social skills, and ease of handling are often chosen. Common breeds that excel as therapy dogs include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. However, it’s important to note that individual dogs of other breeds can also thrive as therapy dogs based on their individual personality traits and training.
Differences between Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs
- Focus on Assistance vs. Emotional Support: The primary distinction between service dogs and therapy dogs lies in their main focus. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that assist their handlers with disabilities, while therapy dogs provide emotional support and comfort to individuals in need. Service dogs’ tasks can include guiding individuals with visual impairments, alerting to sounds, retrieving items, or providing stability during mobility. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, offer affectionate interactions and help alleviate stress or anxiety.
- Legal Rights and Access: Service dogs are granted specific legal rights and access under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States and similar laws in many other countries. They are allowed to accompany their handlers in public spaces, including restaurants, stores, and transportation, and cannot be denied entry based on their disability. In contrast, therapy dogs do not possess the same legal rights as service dogs. While they are welcomed in many facilities, their access is generally dependent on the rules and regulations of the specific location or organization they visit.
Choosing the Best Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs
Selecting the best service dogs and therapy dogs involves considering various factors, including breed characteristics, individual temperament, and specific training requirements.
For service dogs, breeds known for their intelligence, trainability, and physical capability are often preferred. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Standard Poodles are commonly chosen for their exceptional qualities that make them well-suited for service dog tasks. However, it’s important to note that each dog’s temperament, health, and aptitude for training are also essential considerations.
Regarding therapy dogs, breeds with a calm and gentle nature are favored. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are popular due to their friendly and sociable personalities. However, other breeds that exhibit similar qualities can also excel as therapy dogs. The key is assessing the dog’s temperament, social skills, and ability to remain calm in various situations.
It’s crucial to remember that breed alone does not guarantee success as a service dog or therapy dog. Each dog should undergo thorough temperament testing, training, and evaluation to determine their suitability for these roles. Additionally, early socialization and positive reinforcement training play a vital role in shaping a dog’s behavior and abilities.
Service and Theory Dog FAQs
- Can a service dog also be a therapy dog?
- While some dogs may fulfill both service dog and therapy dog roles, it’s important to note that the training and functions of these roles are distinct. A service dog is trained to assist an individual with disabilities, whereas a therapy dog provides emotional support to others in various settings.
- Do therapy dogs have the same access rights as service dogs?
- No, therapy dogs do not have the same legal rights and access as service dogs. While therapy dogs are welcomed in many facilities, their access is dependent on the specific rules and regulations of each location or organization.
- How can someone qualify for a service dog?
- Qualification for a service dog typically involves a formal application process, assessment of the individual’s disability or condition, and evaluation of the individual’s needs and ability to handle a service dog. Each organization or training program may have specific requirements.
- Are service dogs and therapy dogs covered by insurance?
- Insurance coverage for service dogs and therapy dogs can vary depending on the specific insurance policy and provider. It is advisable to consult with the insurance company to understand the extent of coverage for these assistance animals, if any.
- Can anyone train their dog to become a service dog or therapy dog?
- While dog owners can somewhat train their dogs, professionals best conduct the specialized training required for service dogs and therapy dogs. Service dogs undergo extensive training to perform specific tasks and require high obedience and reliability. Therapy dogs also need specialized training to provide comfort and support in various settings while maintaining good behavior. Working with professional trainers and organizations experienced in service dog or therapy dog training is recommended for the best outcomes.
Understanding the difference between service and therapy dogs is essential to appreciate their distinct roles and contributions. Also, check out what an ESA dog can offer if you’re unsure what you need but you know emotion support is an important lifestyle choice for your own circumstances.