| Michaela Fisher

Dogs that Lend a Helping Paw

We all love our canine companions, and we are all aware of the many benefits they bring to our lives. Some dogs have special titles, such as Emotional Support Animal, Therapy Dog, or Service Dog. But what do these words mean? Are they all the same? Read on to find out!

Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

You may have heard of an ESA before. In short, an ESA is an animal that helps someone diagnosed with any number of mental or physical illnesses. Essentially, ESAs are similar to service dogs but without the very specific and extensive training. An ESA can help boost a person’s self esteem, help them be more social because the ESA can act as a sort of “security blanket”, help people feel more safe or generally more comfortable, keep their owners motivated and active, decrease the symptoms of their owners diagnosed illness and give the person a sense of purpose.

An Emotional Support Animal does not have to pass any standardized test or have a specific certification. In order to get an ESA, a person must go to their doctor and ask if an ESA is right for them.

Therapy Dog

A therapy dog is a dog that is trained to provide affection, comfort and love to people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and disaster areas. They help people that suffer from anxiety, depression, bipolar/mood disorders, panic attacks, and other emotional/psychological conditions. They are trained much differently than a service dog.

A therapy dog must pass a test with their handler in order to become a therapy dog. This test includes showing that a dog likes people and is respectful to them. A dog must be able to “leave it” and be okay with wheelchairs and walkers. A therapy dog must remain up to date on their certification and wear appropriate identification when working as a therapy dog.

20200416-Hyacinth-the-Therapy-Dog-Visits-EOC-MN-01 | Flickr

Service Dog

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service dogs as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal who is trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. These dogs might do things such as help the blind or alert for seizures. A service dog often spends over a year training unlike a therapy dog or ESA. Service dogs have certain times when they are a “working” dog and are allowed in spaces where other animals aren’t allowed, and are not supposed to be touched.