Service Dog vs Emotional Support Dog


Dogs can be trained as service dogs or provide emotional support as therapy dogs. The main difference between these two types of trained dogs are the kind of assistance they provide to their owners, and what kind of rights they’ll have in public. 

What PTSD Service Dogs are Trained to Do

According to the ADA, a service dog is one that has been trained to help someone with an emotional or physical disability that impacts one or more major life activities. If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, you and your certifiably trained service dog may be protected under this act. 

Emotionally supportive therapy dogs, although life-changing companions, are usually not protected by the ADA, because they haven’t been formally trained and certified to assist in aiding you in your daily tasks, such as taking medication or overcoming anxiety issues. Whatever education your dog receives, there are several important functions they can perform to help ensure your wellbeing.

Benefits of Owning a PTSD Service Dog

Dogs with a degree in PTSD service receive comprehensive training by specialists who are familiar with the many obstacles posed by this disorder. Living with this unique service dog offers a variety of benefits.

Service dogs are trained to calm someone having an anxiety or panic attack.

These remarkable animals have been educated to look for indicators of an impending meltdown, such as crying, incessant fidgeting or twitching, or stomping. The dog takes action to comfort and soothe her owner by “hugging” or nestling up on him, or even using her paws or head to block the individual from hitting or harming themself.

 Dogs can help ensure that their partners are taking medication.

PTSD is a complex disorder that is often treated with both therapy and medication. Therapy dogs are trained to retrieve medication and bring it to owners in bite-proof containers.

A dog is trained to alert her owner to sounds that may go unnoticed in the event of a panic attack.

For example, if a smoke detector goes off in the middle of an episode, and the PTSD sufferer is too distraught to notice it, the dog may bark in addition to taking action to calm the person down to indicate they need to evacuate the building. They are also trained to lead their human out of the house by gently biting onto a sleeve or pant leg and guiding the handler to safety.

They give PTSD sufferers the confidence to live their lives more independently.

Because PTSD can often leave people with unprovoked feelings of devastation or fear, sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning can seem like too much to handle. Because these dogs are trained to help owners overcome their issues at home and elsewhere, PTSD victims feel like their illness isn’t as big of a setback, and find it’s easier to participate in and enjoy their daily lives.

As always, you will want to be sure you are giving your dog the very best nutritional support by providing a quality food in order to keep your service dog at peak health.  

Benefits of Owning a Therapy Dog

As compared to specially trained service dogs, therapy dogs are used in facilities to comfort people and give affection. Spending time grooming and sitting with a therapy dog has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce anxiety, and increase endorphins and oxytocin. Therapy dogs do not have to be trained to perform specific tasks like service dogs.


A therapy dog can actually be trained by you to perform these specialized support asks. To train a dog to be a therapy dog, you may wish to do the following:

  • Socialize your dog to new people, places, and things
  • Complete obedience training with commands like “look” and “leave” it in addition to teaching them to not jump on people and more
  • Enroll your dog in a therapy dog class
  • Register your dog with a national therapy dog organization

Whether you choose to pursue owning a certified service dog or an emotionally-supportive therapy dog, both types of animals offer immense benefits. Here at Honest Pets, we are committed to supporting a variety of pets as we see all dogs as “working” dogs thanks to the numerous ways they add to our lives.

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