Distinguishing Service Dogs from Therapy Dogs: Roles, Rights, and Responsibilities

This article provides a clear distinction between service dogs and therapy dogs, highlighting their respective roles, legal rights, and training requirements.

*Trainer Angie and Karma who attended our public access training*

Understanding Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs

*Trainer Angie and Karma*

Service Dogs: Tasks and Legal Rights

Service dogs are specially trained to perform specific tasks tailored to assist individuals with disabilities, such as guiding the visually impaired, alerting to seizures, or providing mobility assistance. These dogs play a crucial role in enhancing the independence and quality of life for their handlers. Protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws, service dogs have the legal right to accompany their handlers in various public establishments, including stores, restaurants, hotels, and hospitals.

For instance, a guide dog, a type of service dog, is trained to assist individuals who are blind or visually impaired in navigating their surroundings safely. These dogs undergo rigorous training to learn how to guide their handlers around obstacles, stop at curbs, and avoid potential hazards, showcasing the specific tasks service dogs are trained to perform.

Therapy Dogs: Roles and Settings

In contrast, therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort, affection, and emotional support to individuals in various settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster areas. These dogs work alongside their handlers to offer a sense of calm and joy to those they interact with. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs do not have the same legal rights and public access privileges granted to service animals.

For example, therapy dogs may visit hospitals to interact with patients, providing them with companionship and emotional support. The presence of therapy dogs has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels in individuals, illustrating the valuable role these dogs play in therapeutic settings.

Training and Certification

Service dogs undergo specialized training to perform tasks directly related to a person’s disability, with each dog’s training tailored to meet the specific needs of their handler. These dogs are not required to possess specific certifications but must demonstrate the ability to assist individuals effectively. On the other hand, therapy dogs are trained to interact with a diverse range of individuals and are handled by individuals who meet established standards for dog certification and registration.

For instance, a service dog trained to assist a person with mobility challenges may be tasked with retrieving dropped items, opening doors, or providing stability when walking. In contrast, a therapy dog may visit a school to help children improve their reading skills by providing a non-judgmental and supportive environment, showcasing the different training focuses for service and therapy dogs.

Legal Protections and Documentation

It is essential to understand the legal distinctions between service dogs and therapy dogs to ensure their proper treatment and access rights. Service dogs have the privilege of accompanying their handlers in public places where pet dogs are typically not allowed, emphasizing their vital role in assisting individuals with disabilities. For instance, a service dog trained to guide a visually impaired person can navigate busy streets and help them safely cross roads, showcasing the practical tasks these dogs are trained to perform to enhance their handlers’ quality of life.

In contrast, therapy dogs are limited in their public access rights and are usually only permitted in public places when providing specific therapy services, such as offering comfort to patients in hospitals or nursing homes. For example, a therapy dog visiting a children’s hospital can help reduce anxiety and provide emotional support to young patients undergoing medical treatments. While therapy dogs play a valuable role in uplifting spirits and providing companionship, their legal protections and access rights are more restricted compared to service dogs, highlighting the differences in their functions and responsibilities within different settings.


In conclusion, it is crucial to recognize the clear distinctions between service dogs and therapy dogs in terms of their roles and legal rights. Service dogs are extensively trained to assist individuals with disabilities by performing specific tasks tailored to each person’s needs. For example, a service dog may be trained to alert a person with epilepsy before a seizure occurs, providing critical support and enhancing the person’s safety and independence. On the other hand, therapy dogs offer comfort and affection to people in various settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. These dogs play a vital role in improving the emotional well-being of individuals they interact with, promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels.

Moreover, understanding the legal protections and access rights granted to service dogs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is essential. Service dogs are permitted to accompany their handlers in public places like stores, restaurants, hotels, and hospitals without additional charges or restrictions. This unrestricted access ensures that individuals with disabilities can navigate public spaces with their service dogs, promoting inclusivity and independence. However, therapy dogs, including emotional support dogs, do not have the same legal designation as service dogs and are not granted public access rights. It is important to respect these differences and appreciate the unique contributions that both service dogs and therapy dogs make to society.

Contact Off Leash K9 Training in Oregon for your service dog needs. Please call 503-549-4768 or email [email protected].

https://portlandoregondogtrainers.com for Portland and surrounding areas

https://salemdogtrainers.com for Salem and surrounding areas

https://eugenedogtrainers.com for Eugene and surrounding areas

https://benddogtrainers.com for Bend and surrounding areas

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