Service Dogs and Assistance Dogs aren’t the only dogs in the world who do amazing, life-changing work, but they are one of the few types of working dogs clearly defined and protected by United States federal law. Too many people don’t understand the differences between many types of working dogs, though, and it’s time to clear up some of the confusion.
When it comes to what is and what is not a Service Dog, federal law is very clear. A Service Dog, as defined in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, is any dog who is individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. Service Dogs, when accompanied by an individual with a disability of any kind, generally enjoy complete public access and may go with their disabled handler to almost any place non-disabled members of the public may go. While there are major exceptions (like sterile medical or laboratory environments, churches/places of worship and a couple of others), in general, if a person with a wheelchair is allowed to be somewhere, a person with a Service Dog may also be there. Service Dogs may travel and live with their disabled handler free of charge and it is illegal for places of business or for public accommodations to deny a Service Dog team access.
In order to be a Service Dog with public access, a dog MUST meet three points of law:
- Be specifically trained to perform work or tasks that mitigate the handler’s disability
- Be accompanied by a person with a physical, mental, developmental or other disability
- Be house trained and under the control of the handler
There are no other requirements (no documentation, no gear, no certification, no registration, no anything else) for a dog to be a Service Dog, and it’s quite simple: if a dog is NOT task-trained, working directly for an individual with a disability and under the direct control of the handler, it is NOT a Service Dog.
However, simply knowing a dog is not a Service Dog doesn’t help you know what it is. 🙂 To help you out, here’s a brief overview of many of the other “not a Service Dog” types of working dogs that commonly crop up in day to day life and in conversation.
Not a Service Dog: Therapy Dogs
Therapy Dogs do a valuable job by providing unconditional love, emotional support and an understanding, listening ear anywhere they’re needed. Many people are familiar with Therapy Dogs visiting hospitals, schools, universities group homes and libraries, but Therapy Dogs also provide a valuable service at funerals, disaster sites or anywhere else emotions, grief, and tension may run high.
Therapy Dogs are typically well-trained, sweet-natured, friendly dogs who are, first and foremost, pets. Their family trains them and has them certified via a therapy organization, and therapy dog teams are most often volunteers. Therapy Dogs do NOT have public access, with or without their handler, and they may only enter buildings (that don’t allow all pets to enter) with a direct invitation to the dog and handler or to the therapy dog organization.
Not a Service Dog: Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) work with an individual who needs comfort. They require no specialized training, have no public access, and can be any species. The DOJ/HUD’s Fair Housing Act does protect an owner’s right to reside with their Emotional Support Animal in accommodations that don’t allow pets, and with proper documentation, a person can fly with their ESA.
Not a Service Dog: Facility Dogs
Facility Dogs are highly specialized therapy dogs who come in two flavors: dogs who provide extensive animal-assisted therapy and dogs who live (or work extensively) on-site to provide comfort to residents, patients, or visitors.
Facility Dogs who provide extensive animal-assisted therapy can often be found in physical therapist’s offices, counselor’s offices or anywhere else a professional provides a specialized service to a lot of people. These Facility Dogs may help with the process of rehabilitation, provide practice for a physical therapy patient, or help a wounded child learn to trust again. Anytime a specifically-trained dog does work for a professional’s clients or residents, he’s probably a Facility Dog.
Dogs who live on-site as a resident therapy dog are also Facility Dogs, and these guys can be found at nursing homes, residential facilities, group homes, or at many businesses. If a therapy dog is a “familiar face” at a business, he’s probably a Facility Dog.
Facility Dogs do not have any public access outside of the office or building where they work.
Not a Service Dog: Courthouse Companion Dogs
Courthouse Companion Dogs are specialized facility dogs who are trained to work with children (or adults) in a courtroom while they’re giving difficult or painful testimony. Courthouse Companion Dogs work to lower tension, provide distraction and to give support during the difficult moments of deposition, testimony and any other time they’re needed.
Courthouse Companion Dogs are a little new on the scene, but their success is amazing and for the kids who use their services, there’s nothing better to help them begin to heal and grow again.
Outside of the courtrooms they work in, Courthouse Companion Dogs do not have public access.