The other day a friend of mine asked me what the difference between these 3 was. I figured if she was confused then there were probably a lot of other people out there that are confused as well. So let me clear things up for you!
Service dogs are trained to perform a task, or tasks, that a disabled person would not be able to do themselves. Service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks. We are all familiar with guide dogs that assist the blind by “seeing” for them. But there are also hearing dogs, PTSD dogs, balance assist dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, dogs that pick up dropped items, open and close doors, turn light on and off, go get help when needed, and many more functions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their service dogs in public places, like businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, etc. Additionally, service dogs are allowed in the cabin of airplanes and in housing that would normally not allow pets.
You should never, ever interfere with a service dog’s job of attending to their handler’s needs by talking to, or trying to pet them.
Therapy dogs provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers; who are usually their owners. These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit hospitals, schools, hospices, psychotherapy offices, nursing homes, schools, day cares, group homes and rehabilitation centers. Their roles vary, from dogs who give learning disabled children the confidence to read out loud, to actively participating in physical rehabilitation therapy.
Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with a variety of people while they’re “on-duty”. Despite thorough training, certification and the therapeutic benefits therapy dogs provide, they do not have the same jobs or legal designation as service dogs, and owners of therapy dogs do not have the same rights to be accompanied by these dogs in places where pets are not permitted.
Emotional Support Animals are not required to undergo specialized training. Their primary role is to provide their owners with emotional comfort. The ADA does not grant owners of emotional support animals the right to be accompanied by these animals in establishments that do not allow pets. However, the Fair Housing Act does allow for owners of emotional support animals to reside in housing that has a “No Pets” policy, as a reasonable accommodation. The Air Carrier Access Act also allows those with proof of a disability the accommodation of being accompanied by an emotional support animal in the cabin of a plane.