Emotional Support Dogs vs. Service Dogs

Sparky Steps - Emotional Support Dogs vs. Service Dogs

Emotional Support Dogs vs. Service Dogs

A peacock, a hamster, dogs, and cats: all manner of animals have been called emotional support animals (ESAs). A flurry of news stories about airlines cracking down on emotional support animal flight rules has called attention to ESAs. What does it take for an animal to be an official ESA? What differentiates an emotional support dog and a service dog?

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs provide comfort to individuals with different emotional and mental conditions, according to the United States Dog Registry. Emotional support dogs can help people with conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Emotional support dogs do not have to undergo specific training to fill this role. Rather, the emotional support comes from their natural affection and personality. While many dog owners derive this kind of support from their pet, it is not enough to simply say your dog is an ESA. If you want special accommodations that come with an ESA, such as flying with your dog, you will need a letter from a physician or mental health professional certifying you have a condition and need the support dog. The Air Carrier Access Act allows individuals to fly with emotional support animals, according to the American Kennel Club. But, you should always check individual airline regulations and prepare the necessary documentation before heading to the airport with your dog.

Service Dogs

Service animals are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities,” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, service dogs and their owners have more legal rights than people with ESAs. Service animals are allowed to enter businesses, government service areas, and other public spaces. Public spaces have more discretion when it comes to allowing or banning ESAs. Service dogs are specifically trained to help people with conditions such as blindness, deafness, seizures, diabetes, and narcolepsy, according to USA Service Dog Registration. Individual owners can train their pets to become service dogs, but there are also a number of organizations and nonprofits dedicated to this process. The U.S. does not have specific training time requirements for service dogs, but some standards recommend 120 hours of training over a six-month period, according to Service Dog Certifications. Many people with service dogs dress their dog in a service vest and carry certification paperwork with them to confirm their status. 

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Written by Carrie Pallardy

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