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Different Types of Service Dogs

Article Posted By Josh Griffith

What is the difference between a Service Dog and a Therapy Dog?

It is important for us to let you know that Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs are NOT the same.  They are vastly different and the terms "Service Dog" and "Therapy Dog" should NOT be interchanged with one another.  Federal Law states that a Service Animal is NOT a pet.  According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a service animal is any animal that has been individually trained to provide assistance or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a physical or mental disability which substantially limits one or more major life functions. Additionally, many states have their own laws which follow up on the federal law in more detail.
A Therapy Animal (Therapy Dog) refers to a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, mental institutions, schools, and stressful situations such as disaster areas.  Therapy Dogs provide animal contact to numerous individuals who may, or may not, have disabilities.  A Therapy Animal works in animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy.  It is usually the personal pet of its handler, and typically works with its handler in attendance during sessions.  Visiting animal-handler teams are the most common source of therapy animals/therapy dogs.  The handlers of these visiting teams may be volunteers or health care professionals on the staff of the facility they visit. 
Handlers of Therapy Dogs do NOT have the same rights as the handler of a Service Dog.  The handler of a Service Animal is protected under the ADA due to the individual's disability.  This is a VERY IMPORTANT distinction.  It should be understood that it is the DISABLED HANDLER that has rights under the ADA and not the dog.  The Service Dog is allowed access solely because of the rights of the individual.


Types of Service Animals

This is only a partial list of Service Animals and is not intended to be all-inclusive:

  • Guide Dog or Seeing Eye Dog - This Service Animal would assist an individual that has vision loss; either fully or partial. Dog will assist with daily activities and be trained specifically to handler's needs including, but not limited to: crossing streets, navigating halls and stairs locating transit boarding locations.
  • Mobility Dog - This Service Dog may retrieve items, open doors or even push buttons for its handler.  Also, this Service Animal may assist people with disabilities with walking, balance and transferring from place to place. This dog may also be trained to pull wheelchairs and assist the handler in getting in and out of a chair.
  • Hearing Alert Dog - This Service Dog will alert its handler with a hearing loss to sounds. A dog like this may also be specifically be trained to alert it's owner of people approaching that are out of the view of the individual.
  • Seizure Alert Dog/Seizure Response Dog - Also known as Medical Alert Dog, this Service Dog alerts to oncoming seizures and is trained to respond to seizures such as "Get Help" or stay with the person until help arrives. These dogs are amazing and sometimes pick up on changes within the body with no training at all. We've heard numerous life-saving stories of this type of service dog.
  • Medical Alert Dog/Medical Response Dog - This Service Dog is trained to alert to oncoming medical conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, epilepsy, panic attack, anxiety attack and even post traumatic stress disorder.
  • Autism Service Dog - This Service Dog can alert its handler of certain behaviors so that the handler may keep these behaviors to a minimum. 
  • PTSD Service Dog - these dogs are commonly used for post-war handlers, but are certainly not limited to only veterans. Abuse victims and others suffering from PTSD find help and relief by the use of a PTSD service dog. These dogs can be trained to perform many tasks including, but not limited to, waking an individual from a trauma-related nightmare.