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Do You Know The Difference Between Therapy, Service & Emotional Support Dogs?

Service dogs wearing their vests.


When I had a bi-lateral mastectomy followed by 2 years of reconstructive surgeries, my dog Rama was right by my bed.  Normally the dogs aren’t allowed in my bedroom, but she sensed something was going on with me, so I relented.  The original post is here on our old blog.  As good as she was, the other dogs were not.  Since I am usually their leader and caregiver, the fact that I was recovering in bed sent everyone into a tizzy.  Weakness in a pack of dogs will not go unnoticed.  There was crate pooping, peeing on the floor (thank goodness for tile) and a good bit of destruction.  My poor family (some of whom came in from out of town to help me during this time) had a bit of a difficult time, especially my husband and the oldest child.  The two of them do not deal with stress well, and their frustration was not lost on the dogs.  Any change of routine is usually stressful on a dog, as they are creatures of habit.

Rama’s presence in the bedroom was good for me, though.  She would rest her head on my legs and make me giggle with her grumbly sounds at her own reflection.  When I began to get really stressed about my situation, she would calm me.  Moms out there know that when you are down, the house ceases to function well.  It was very hard for me to sit still and allow others to try to get things done around my house.  I began to think of all the folks in hospitals and nursing homes.  How lonely it must get.  I know when I was in the hospital I would have loved a therapy dog visit.

Therapy dogs exist to calm, de-stress and bring joy to people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and busy places like airports.  In order for a dog to become a therapy dog, it must pass several tests.  Unlike service dogs, they do not have special privileges in places of business for any other reason than their duties as a therapy dog.

A Therapy Dog working in a nursing home.


Service dogs do jobs for people with physical disabilities, conditions such as depression (in that case, an Emotional Assistance Dog) or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and those suffering from medical conditions such as seizure disorders.   Service dogs are permitted in businesses, on airplanes, public transportation, restaurants and generally everywhere the disabled handler is able to go.  Exceptions would obviously be kitchens and operating rooms; places where the animal could compromise quality control or health standards.

A seeing eye dog helps his visually impaired handler.


In recent years, service dogs have been increasingly used to help reach children with autism.  The presence of the dog is often calming and stimulating in a way that autistic children usually show little tolerance for with people.  For a look into the world of autism assistance dogs, please visit 4 Paws For Ability.

Fake Service Dogs

While we understand that it is tempting to want to put a vest on your dog so that you can take him/her everywhere you go, it is actually a very bad idea.  Dogs that are not trained as service dogs are not going to behave as service dogs, and can create a situation wherein service dogs are looked upon as a nuisance.  There are already many businesses and people that are not happy about service dogs being allowed, and when untrained dogs masquerading as service dogs are present in establishments without having the proper certification, it makes it difficult for actual service dogs to do their jobs.  It is akin to parking in a handicapped space when you aren’t handicapped.  There are many places you can go with your pet, so please, take advantage of those places and don’t try to pass off your dog as a service animal when he/she isn’t.

#servicedogs #medicalalertdogs #fitdogfriday #howdogshelppeople #emotionalassistancedogs #dogsandyourhealth #fakeservicedogs #dogswithjobs

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