There is a great deal of confusion regarding the definitions and rights of “service dogs” versus “therapy dogs” and “emotional support dogs” and “assistance animals.” Most people refer to all these dogs as “service dogs” –however, there are legal definitions and important differences between each category.
A service animal is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Examples of qualifying work are guiding the blind, assisting with mobility, or alerting for seizures. A certified Psychiatric Service Animal trained for calming a person with PTSD, for example, is also classified as a “service dog”. Service dogs are protected under the ADA and are permitted public access. Under the ADA, you are not required to present a doctor’s note or medical proof to obtain public access or housing. You must, however, be able to answer these two questions (1) if your dog is required due to a disability and (2) what the dog is trained to do.
Currently, there is no official national ADA test to certify service dogs. Although there is no official test, certain types of Service Dogs such as seeing eye dogs take years to train and should obtained by a reputable company specializing in service dogs. Most of these types of service dogs are carefully bred or selected.
That being said, there are many types of disabilities and there are some dogs that naturally perform tasks that aid people with disabilities such as seizure alerts or calming PTSD. Also, some people do manage to train their dog to perform certain tasks to aid in their specific disability. These dogs would all qualify as a service dog under the ADA.
Therapy dogs, while require special training, have a completely different job from service dogs and assistance dogs. Therapy dogs provide psychological or emotional support to people other than their handlers. They may visit hospitals or schools, or assist after traumatic events. Therapy dog certification and training does not grant the dog public access rights under the ADA or FHA.
The first step to becoming a therapy dog is passing the Canine Good Citizen test. Our basic on leash Stay & Train program or day school will prepare your dog for that. If you are interested in group classes, our training basics and foundation class is a great place to start.
While we can’t train guide dogs, mobility, assistance, seizure alert, or other specific tasks for a disability, we can help with basic behavior and obedience so dogs that are assisting their owners can be properly behaved in public. Additional skills can be discussed on a case-by-case basis. As service dogs do have public access, they should be well-behaved and under control. Bad behavior in public can cause embarrassing public challenges to the validity of your dog’s service status.
If you have a personal dog that is assisting you with your disability, and you are struggling with behavior problems in public, we will be more than happy to help.
Assistance dogs are not given public access under the ADA, however, they are granted additional rights under the Fair Housing Act. Emotional Support Animals are classified as an assistance dog and can be granted access to housing that otherwise would not allow pets. While Emotional Support Animals do not require specialized training, they should be well-behaved and under control of the handler.
In order for your dog to qualify as an ESA for housing, you must consult a licensed mental health professional and receive an ESA Letter. We assist with evaluating and training your dog in basic obedience and provide a referral to seek an ESA Letter in Texas.
In our program, your dog will be trained in basic obedience skills to pass the Canine Good Citizen exam and proper manners and control in public. Dogs wearing service dog vests should be well-behaved and under control in public at all times. At the end of your program, you can schedule your CGC exam at our facility to get your dog’s CGC certificate. Any dog seeking to be an assistance animal should, at minimum, be able to pass the Canine Good Citizen exam.