Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs): Understanding the Differences

Overview

Two of the most frequent questions Project Canine receives are: "Can you help me get a service dog?" and "Can you help me train my dog to be a service dog?" The answer to both questions is, no. Project Canine does not train, place, or match service dogs. Service dogs and therapy dogs provide very different services and their training and focus differ greatly as well.

But there is a lot of confusion about what constitutes a service dog as opposed to a therapy dog. Even mainstream media and credible journalists mix these terms up and use them incorrectly. There is also a third designation, Emotional Support Animal or ESA, which is different than therapy dogs and service dogs. This page outlines the differences between these designations and also provides some service dog and ESA resources if that is what you need.


Service Dogs

This is a classic service dog situation where a dog guide provides dedicated assistance to a person who is sight-impaired. Click here to watch a video of a service dog at work comforting his autistic handler.

This is a classic service dog situation where a dog guide provides dedicated assistance to a person who is sight-impaired. Click here to watch a video of a service dog at work comforting his autistic handler.


Service dogs are specially trained to help one person negotiate their world with a specific disability. They have guaranteed rights under federal and state law.

Service Dog Resources

Click here if you need a service dog, need information about the law and service dogs, or need service dog training resources.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional Support Dog is a separate designation from either service dog or therapy dog. ESAs have different rights and restrictions under the law, and they require different training. Click her for more information about Emotional Support Animals.

Therapy Dogs

This is a classic therapy dog situation where a therapy dog is visiting with multiple people in a public environment.

This is a classic therapy dog situation where a therapy dog is visiting with multiple people in a public environment.


Therapy dogs are trained with a handler to provide comfort and support to many people in either an individual or group setting. They are legally designated as pets and have no special rights under federal and state law.