What’s the Difference Between a Service Dog and an Emotional Support Dog?
There’s no denying the special bond between dog and person. The human-animal bond has been fostered for thousands of years. Pets originally serviced humans by providing protection and performing tasks such as tracking, herding, and hunting. Now, pets seem to primarily provide companionship. And research shows that even this companionship is proving helpful to humans.
Multiple studies have shown that owning a dog has actual health benefits. Pet owners of one study exhibited lower heart rate and blood pressure compared to non-pet owners. Studies have also shown that dog ownership can even lower risk of death. Studies report that having a dog can reduce loneliness, with evidence that people with strong attachment to their pet also feel more connected in their interpersonal relationships and communities.
Dogs can help with mental health so much that now there are service dogs and emotional support animals for those with psychiatric disabilities. But what’s the difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog? And who specifically qualifies for them?
Who Needs Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs?
Anyone with a psychiatric disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) qualifies to have either a service dog or an emotional support dog to assist them with their disability. As defined by the ADA, the term “disability” is as follows:
“(a) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of [an] individual; (b) a record of such an impairment; or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment.”
The mental health disorders covered by the ADA include:
- Post-trauma stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Traumatic brain injury
Conditions like the above substantially limit an individual’s ability to perform major life tasks, such as:
- Interacting with others
- Caring for oneself
This is where psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs can assist those who need help with these major life tasks.
Purpose and Training
Service dogs are trained to perform everyday tasks that are related to their owner’s disability. They are specially trained to assist only their owner. They must be trained to be well-behaved in any setting, recognize their owner’s need for help, and be able to respond effectively to their need. Its primary function is not to provide emotional support, but rather to assist their owner in tasks they could not do alone otherwise.
Some tasks that service dogs may perform for an owner with a psychiatric disability are:
- Blocking their owner from running into danger when in a dissociative state
- Preventing or interrupting destructive behaviors such as self-harm
- Perform room searches that notifies if someone is in the room for owners who may experience hallucinations or altered perceptions
- Fetching and/or reminding their owner to take their medication
Emotional support dogs have a primary purpose of providing emotional support through their presence alone. They are not specially trained to assist anyone, nor are they specifically trained to be well-behaved. Emotional support dogs usually are a part of their owner’s mental health treatment plan, as they can be therapeutic and can help improve their symptoms.
Service dogs are able to enter public establishments with their owner due to being covered by the ADA. This includes spaces such as various modes of transportation including airplanes, universities, libraries, beaches, bars, restaurants, and stores.
As for the workplace, the ADA does not specify that workplaces must allow psychiatric service animals, but they do ask employers to make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities. This can include having an animal in the office. But if the service animal creates undue hardship for the employer, they may deny a service animal. For example, a surgeon would not be able to have their service dog in the hospital due to putting others at risk.
Emotional support dogs do not have public access as they are not covered by the ADA. However, state/local governments have different policies on allowing emotional support dogs visit public spaces. Owners should check the laws regarding emotional support animals with their relevant agencies.
Emotional support dogs used to be able to ride with their owners in airplane cabins. But as of 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation no longer requires airlines to accommodate emotional support animals.
Service dogs are able to live with their owner in housing facilities that otherwise would not allow pets. They are protected by California and federal laws, which dictates that the service animal must be a dog or miniature horse that performs disability-related tasks for the individual. They must not present a direct threat to others or fundamentally change the nature of their housing.
Emotional support dogs are also protected by California and federal laws, meaning they are able to live with their owners in housing that otherwise would not allow pets. The companionship and comfort of an emotional support dog must be relevant to their owner’s disability. As previously stated, there is no requirement that emotional support dogs are trained. But they cannot pose a direct threat to others or property, cause undue financial or administrative burden, or fundamentally change the nature of their housing.
How Do You Get a Service Dog or an Emotional Support Dog?
Service dogs first require written documentation from a healthcare provider to qualify. This documentation must verify that you are getting treated for an emotional/psychiatric disorder and how it requires the assistance of an animal.
Then, an individual can get a service dog through a professional service dog training organization or individual. The cost of training a service dog can be above $25,000 through for-profit organizations. Some non-profit organizations provide service dogs to disabled individuals for free or provide financial aid for those seeking a service dog. The ADA does not require professional training of a service dog, so individuals have the right to train them themselves.
Emotional support dogs require a letter from a mental health professional that verifies your mental health disability and that an animal would assist you with it. In California, you must have had a client-provider relationship with your prescribing provider for at least 30 days to getting the letter. In California, there is no limit to the number of emotional support animals you may have. However, each animal must help you with your disability in a specific way and each must be covered in your letter. The letter can apply to a dog that you already have had prior or to a dog you will get after.
If you are experiencing mental health issues and your furry helper is not enough, The Meadowglade can provide extra assistance in your healing journey. Providing residential, partial hospitalization, and outpatient programs, we can provide multiple levels of care catered to each individual. For more information, contact our admissions team today.