Clients constantly request training for service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs at our Providence, Rhode Island location. However, they’re not always sure exactly what it is that they need or want. It’s important to understand the differences between the three so that you can determine what you need from your canine companion.

Emotional Support Animals (ESA):

ESAs provide a benefit to owners who have physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities.

How is an ESA Defined:

“An emotional support animal is an animal (typically a dog or cat though this can include other species) that provides a therapeutic benefit to its [disabled] owner through companionship.”

Do You Qualify to Have an ESA?

In order to qualify you must have a physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disability. You must obtain a note documenting said disability from a physician or other medical professional, and this note must state that the ESA provides a benefit for you.

Does an ESA Require Training?

Emotional Support Animals do not require any professional training. The dog (or other species) is not required to perform tasks to help you with your daily life, so no service training is required. While it’s always a good idea to make sure your dog has obedience training, federal law does not require this.

Can I Bring My ESA Anywhere in Public?

While Emotional Support Animals are afforded more rights in terms of public interactions, they are limited. A person with an ESA has the right to request the landlord waive the “no pets” policy. Landlords that refuse to do so are subject to lawsuits under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Fair Housing Act Amendments, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, landlords cannot demand any extra fees or deposits for housing.

According to the Air Carrier Access Act, ESAs are allowed on airlines as long as the animal does not pose a danger to other passengers and does not interfere with others (by barking, urinating, or defecating on the plane). In order to bring an ESA on an aircraft, the owner must provide documentation to prove he/she has been prescribed an Emotional Support Animal.

Is Documentation Required?

Yes. Owners of ESAs must have a note from a doctor stating the presence of the animal provides a benefit for the person’s disability.

Should I Register My ESA Online?

No! These “agencies” are all scams!

Therapy Dogs:

A therapy dog visiting a patient in the hospital

How is a Therapy Dog Defined:

A therapy dog “is a canine that has been trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, [and] disaster areas.”

Do You Qualify to Have a Therapy Dog?

Yes. Anyone can own a therapy dog.

Does a Therapy Dog Require Training?

Therapy dogs require specific training and certification. In order to pass a therapy dog certification test, the dogs must be trained in basic obedience. They should be able to come, sit, down, and heel around loud, unexpected noises. They should be comfortable around people in wheelchairs, people using canes, people with unusual styles of walking, children, and the elderly. They must be comfortable being petted and they must be taught food refusal to avoid accidently eating dangerous foods, medication, and other objects that could cause health issues.

Can I Bring My Therapy Dog Anywhere in Public?

No. Therapy dogs are allowed to enter participating hospitals, schools, retirement homes, hospice cares, etc., but they are not allowed in any public space any other pet cannot enter. For example, they are not allowed in restaurants or on airplanes. There is no exception made to pet policies for therapy dogs.

Is Documentation Required?

Yes. In order to enter most hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, [and] disaster areas, therapy dogs must be certified. This will include paperwork provided by the agency where the dog took its therapy certification test.

Should I Register My Therapy Dog Online?

While some agencies may require you to register for the test online, any agency willing to certify your dog without him/her passing the test is a scam!

Service Dogs:

How is a Service Dog Defined:

According to the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with a mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”

Do You Qualify to Have a Service Dog?

In order to qualify for a service dog, you must have a physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disability.

Does a Service Dog Require Training?

Service dogs require more training than both ESAs and therapy dogs. They are considered working dogs. Therefore, they should have obedience training in order to maintain focus while in public, and they must have task training in order to assist their owner with daily tasks. This training can take weeks, months, or even years depending on the dog and the task.

Can I Bring My Service Dog Anywhere in Public?

Yes. Service dogs are allowed to go anywhere their owners can go. This includes housing which doesn’t allow pets, restaurants, school buildings, hospitals, airplanes, etc.

Is Documentation Required?

No. There are no federal or state registries for service dogs. Service dog owners are not required to carry or provide documentation of any kind. However, having the dog wear a vest will help cut down on people in public trying to interact with the dog and/or people questioning whether or not the dog is a service dog. In the event that someone decides to ask you if your dog is a service dog, by law, he/she is only allowed to ask two questions:

  1. Is your dog a service dog?
  2. What tasks is he/she trained to perform?

Anything beyond this is a violation of federal law. It is also important to understand that having your dog impersonate a service dog is also a violation of federal law.

Should I Register My Service Dog Online?

No! These “agencies” are all scams!

                                         

Final Thoughts

All dogs should receive training so that they are well-behaved in public and don’t disrupt the lives of anyone around you. However, only therapy dogs and service dogs require training. It’s also crucial that people stop misrepresenting their dogs as any of the above. This makes it more difficult for those of us who have legitimate emotional support, therapy, or service dogs. If you need service dog or therapy dog training in the Providence, Rhode Island area, feel free to reach out to us at any time!

Warmest Wags and Woofs,

Mike

[email protected]

(401) 400-4437

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