Emotional Support Animal Vs. Service Animal: The Differences

Dogs are highly adept animals that can be trained to do nearly anything, which is why they're not only perfect companions but perfect helpers, too. For centuries, man has been using dogs to help them lighten the load in daily life (sometimes even literally!) and in today's world, we have come to know them as service dogs. While most of us are familiar with the term, what many don't realize is that a service dog and an emotional support dog are actually two completely different things.

Modern society has grown far more accepting of the issues that accompany someone struggling with a mental health battle and out of this came the emotional support animal. They're similar, yet very different, in comparison to a service animal -- But how? That's the question we're aiming to answer as we dive into the major differences between the two whose jobs are to help make life easier for their owners.

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8 The Major Difference: Service Animals Are Trained For A Job

For starters, a service animal is one that has been formally trained to be as such. These dogs do anything from being the eyes for a person who is blind to helping keep watch over someone who suffers from epilepsy. Dogs can be trained to do miraculous things -- including saving lives -- which is what makes them so important in the field of service animals.

These dogs are trained, reserving the right to come with their owners just about anywhere they're needed.

7 Emotional Support Dogs Must Be Evaluated By A Medical Professional

As opposed to service animals, an emotional support animal doesn't necessarily undergo training in order to service his or her owner.

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An emotional support animal is there to provide his or her owner with support in any area -- whether their owner struggles with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any other mental health diagnosis. They're not trained to carry out a specific job, per se, but do serve their purpose in being a source of comfort, reassurance, and safety for their owners.

6 One Is More Limited On Area Access Than The Other

A proper emotional support animal does not have unlimited access to anywhere a human can go. A service animal has access by law to most places barring certain exceptions (a sterile surgery room for example), as they've been trained to perform a job that their owner struggles with or are incapable of.

This is different from an emotional support animal, who hasn't necessarily been trained but is there to provide comfort and security. As unfair as it may seem, there are limitations on where an emotional support dog can go and what they can do in public spaces.

5 Emotional Support Animals Serve Owners In The Area Of Mental Health

While it might seem like an easy process to acquire an emotional support animal, it's actually not. To actually get an emotional support animal, you must meet the same applicable definition of disability as set by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Also, it is normal to see if the animal would actually get along with its owner (but this is not a legal requirement necessarily). This can apply to any type of mental or learning disability, as the dog's purpose is to provide therapeutic benefits that will help get their owner through the struggles of day-to-day life.

4 Service Animals Help Owners With A Physical Disability And More

Service dogs have a bit of a wider range when it comes to helping their owners. Not only can they be helpful when it comes to physical disabilities, but they can also help those with psychiatric disabilities like a soldier suffering from PTSD. More recently, dogs can help children with autism as well.

The area of service has grown exponentially when it comes to how a service dog can become part of someone's life and studies have shown that they can actually save lives in addition to improving them. Dogs are often hyper-aware of health issues before their owners are and this has been proven successful when pairing the two together.

3 Service Animals Have Wider Access To More Transportation Options

While both service and emotional support animals do have access to public transportation, one of them is slightly more limited than the other. While a service animal is there to do a specific job, an emotional support animal is there to provide a source of therapy.

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While emotional support animals can board airplanes, buses have no legal requirement to allow them. Just as private establishments reserve the rights to limit access to emotional support dogs, bus services have the same. It's not something that is often an issue, but it's one that those with service dogs rarely need to face.

2 An Emotional Support Animal Can Be Restricted From Entering Establishments

While Emotional Support Animals are allowed to be in places such as homes that would normally be pet-free as well as traveled with on airplanes, it does not mean that an individual establishment can't restrict pet access.

When it comes down to it, a service animal is there to do a task for someone with a mental or intellectual disability. While an emotional support dog fills the need for companionship this doesn't mean they won't face restrictions.

1 A Service Dog Do Not Provide Emotional Support


While service dogs may provide emotional support on some level to the person they're helping, that isn't necessarily what they're trained for.

From puppyhood, service dogs are trained to perform a task for their humans. An emotional support dog, on the other hand, doesn't fill that same role. It is important to recognize the differences between the two.

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