Emotional Support Dog vs Service Dog?

Dogs are a man’s best friend, they can do many things that help and benefit their owners and the world. They can help us both emotionally and physically. Fox 13 brought in Heather Gibson, from Big Hearted Breeders, and her puppy, Sweet Potato, to talk about the differences between Emotional Support Dogs, Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs which tends to get a little convoluted and confusing.

girl hugging Golden RetrieverFirst, Emotional Support Animals (ESA). They are the most common as people are looking for the benefits of lowered stress, there are so many great research studies now that show the benefit of it, so they are looking for a pet.

Sometimes, people think that their Emotional Support Animal gives them the benefits of being able to go anywhere without permission, this is called public access. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, your Emotional Support Animal needs permission from owners or management in order to enter stores or restaurants, for example.

Girl with Tan Mini GoldensThe only benefits that Emotional Support Animals have is for housing, so you can bring in a dog or a cat to housing that normally does not allow them and without a pet fee. There are a few exceptions to this, so if you live in the United States make sure you check with your state laws to find out.

To qualify for the housing benefit of an Emotional Support Animal, you do not need to register anywhere online. So be warned, anyone who tries to sell you an ESA Registration to you online is a scam. You need a doctor's note from either your medical doctor, a therapist, a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, and that is how you gain the benefits for your Emotional Support Animal. 

Boy with Mini GoldensNext, Therapy Animals. This is when a volunteer trains their dog and then goes into places like the hospital, nursing centers, places like that and helps people in other ways. There are very few benefits for therapy dogs.

Therapy animals also don’t have public access, they need permission to go into places. They also usually get very specific training for their work. There are a several organizations that provide this training including Pet Partner, Intermountain Therapy Dogs and Utah Therapy Dogs

Many places where Therapy Animals volunteer require the owner and dog to complete a formal training in order to get the ability to volunteer. It’s a lot on the owner so if you are interested in volunteering your dog as a Therapy Dog you will want to make sure your dog has the right temperament for this before getting started.

Military man kissing black dogLast, Service Animals. A lot of people confuse emotional support animals with service animals. Service Animals have public access, so there are very few places they are not allowed to go with their owner. They are permitted, for example on air travel, while other pets may not be or may require a fee.

A service dog is considered to be medical equipment for their owner. The owner has to have an ADA disability and the service dog has to do something to fulfill and help with that issue. These animals are individually trained to complete a specific work or task that provides an animals assist to an individual with a disability. 

Some of the things a service dog can do is go get medicine, alert before a seizure, open and close doors, or provide pressure therapy for someone with PTSD and the list goes on. They perform an important work for people with disabilities.

While all of these dogs serve an important purpose in our society, and perhaps in your personal life, it is important to remember that a dog has feelings too. With that in mind, it is important to keep their personality in mind when deciding if that specific dog or animal would make a good ESA, Therapy Animal or Service Animal.

Therapy dogs are the hardest temperament to find. It’s not just about the training, a therapy dog has to be really good in all situations and with all kinds of people. If you try to put a dog in this situation that does not have the proper temperament, they may not perform well, or they burn out quickly.

On the other hand, emotional support and service dogs are usually trained to one person, which gives them a little more leeway on their temperament. However, their personalities should still be taken into account when deciding the type of work they would be best suited for in order to ensure they are able to fulfill the duties that will be required of them and not burn out.

Mini Golden kissing girl

**If you are interested in learning more about emotional support dogs or service dogs, please reach out to me using the form below!**

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Comments (4)


Josaph Lara

May 19, 2023 12:53 AM 5DT

I'm going through bipolar disorder. I was thinking about having an emotional support dog. Can you suggest to me any dog breeds to choose from? It is my first time getting a dog, so it will be a great help.


Heather Gibson

Jul 05, 2023 10:37 PM 7DT

Josaph, Mini Golden Retrievers are a great Emotional Support Dog! If you'd like more information, I'd be happy to chat with you about this. Feel free to reach out at


Davin Stephen

Mar 30, 2023 12:51 AM 3DT

Hello, Thanks for the information. As a pet owner, I clearly understand the difference between an emotional support dog & service dog. An emotional support dog is a type of assistance animal that provides comfort and support to individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities. These dogs are not specifically trained to perform tasks related to the person's disability but rather provide emotional support and companionship. On the other hand, a service dog is specifically trained to perform tasks related to the person's disability, such as guiding a person who is blind or detecting seizures in someone with epilepsy. Service dogs are protected under the ADA and are allowed to accompany their owners in all public places, including restaurants, stores, and public transportation. It's important to note that emotional support animals are not the same as psychiatric service dogs, which are trained to perform specific tasks related to a person's psychiatric disability, such as reminding the person to take medication or interrupting self-harm behaviors. In conclusion, emotional support dogs and service dogs serve different roles and have different legal rights. It's important to understand these differences when considering the role of a dog in assisting someone with a disability.


Heather Gibson

May 13, 2023 09:18 PM 5DT

Very true, thank you for your comment!

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