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Understanding Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Read on to learn more about service dogs, emotional support dogs, and the difference between the two.

As pet parents, we know how important our dogs are to our well-being. Dogs can help us to lower stress, feel happier and exercise. Some pet parents have service dogs or emotional support dogs that help them get through life. But what is a service dog exactly, and how are service dogs different from emotional support dogs?

What is a working dog?

A working dog is an animal that is specially trained to perform a task and is not considered a pet. Types of working dogs may include police dogs and search-and-rescue dogs in addition to service dogs.

What are some types of service dogs?

A service dog is a working dog that helps a person with a disability lead a more independent life. Service dogs are trained to take an action whenever required to assist a person with their disability. Some examples include:

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs help visually impaired people navigate their environment.

Hearing Dogs

Hearing dogs alert people who are hard of hearing to important sounds and noises.

Mobility Dogs

Mobility dogs help people in wheelchairs or people with balance problems.

Medical Alert Dogs

Medical alert dogs signal the onset of a medical issue, such as a seizure or low blood sugar.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs are task-trained to help people with certain mental health conditions (such as PTSD, autism spectrum disorders, and many others) by reminding their handler to take medication, or alerting others to seek help if their handler is in danger, for example.

Are Emotional Support Dogs Considered Service Dogs?

No, emotional support dogs (sometimes called therapy dogs) are not considered service dogs because they’re not trained to perform a specific task or job. The ADA definition of a service dog specifies performing tasks directly related to a person’s disability.

In contrast, emotional support dogs are pets that provide comfort and companionship simply by being with their pet parent. A licensed mental health professional can prescribe an emotional support dog to patients with disabling mental health issues. But unlike service dogs, emotional support dogs aren’t legally required to be allowed in airplanes, stores or restaurants.

Can I Adopt an Emotional Support Dog?

To adopt an emotional support animal (ESA) you’ll need a prescription (known as an “ESA letter”) from a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. Once you have an ESA letter, your current dog or any dog that you adopt can be your emotional support dog. There’s no specific training or certification for a dog to be considered an emotional support animal. The Fair Housing Act says you have the right to live with your emotional support dog, even if your landlord has a no-pets policy.

How should you act around a service dog?

Service dogs make a big difference in the lives of their handlers and it’s important that you be respectful and let them do their jobs. Usually you can identify a service dog because they are wearing a special vest or harness, but there aren’t specific rules about what they should or shouldn’t wear.

If you must interact, approach the handler and not the service dog

The service dog is focused on their job: keeping their handler safe. Limit your interactions if possible and don’t ask personal questions unless required.

Do not touch a service dog without asking their handler

Petting a service dog could distract them from their job, so check with their handler first to ask if it’s okay. And be sure to keep small children away as well.

Do Not Offer Food or Treats to a Service Dog

Food is distracting to working dogs, so let them do their jobs. It’s also common for service dogs to follow a specific diet and feeding schedule.

Keep your dog away from service dogs

As with the advice above, your dog is a distraction to the service dog and their job. Keep your dog on a short leash, pick them up or cross the street if necessary.

Let the handler know if their service dog approaches you

If the service dog is trying to get your attention, let their handler know.

If an unattended service dog approaches you

In this situation, the service dog is probably asking for help. Follow the dog to its handler, find out if there’s a problem and call 911 if necessary.

Always remember that service dogs are vital to their handlers with disabilities. Their handler’s life may depend on their service dog, so always be respectful and don’t distract them.

All Dogs Deserve the Best Food and Treats

Whether you have a service dog, an emotional support dog, or simply the best dog ever, you want to give them the highest quality pet food, with an emphasis on nutrition. Stella & Chewy’s raw and raw-inspired dog foods offer 100% complete and balanced diets to help dogs thrive. Learn more about the benefits of a raw diet for dogs, or explore recipes below.

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