Emotional Support and Service Dogs

What is a Service Dog?

There seems to be a lot of confusion on the definitions of different types of dogs. The terms “Service Dog” and “Emotional Support Dog” are not interchangeable. The legal definition of a service dog, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.1 It goes on to say that “the work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual’s disability.1

Emotional Support Dogs

An emotional support dog is a type of Emotional Support Animal (ESA). In order to qualify as an ESA, the owner must have a psychological condition that is verified by a doctor or other health care professional. However, an emotional support dog has not received the level of training required to be a Service Dog. There are other acronyms and terminology bandied around in the Service Dog world, as well.

Psychiatric Support Dogs

A Psychiatric Service Dog, or PSD, is a dog who has been trained to help someone with psychological disabilities. How is this different from an Emotional Support Animal? A PSD fits the legal definition of a Service Dog: he or she has been individually-trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. The person has an illness or condition that interferes substantially with the basic activities of daily living.

Rights of Owners

While an ESA may have some training, such as obedience and/or manners, it has not been trained to complete specific tasks. He or she does not necessarily have the proper temperament to be a working Service Dog and his or her primary purpose is to provide companionship. The owner may or may not have a mental condition beyond anxiety and depression. The ESA does not grant any additional public access rights, but is granted more leeway in housing and air travel than a general pet. As per federal law, “the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purpose of this definition.1 A person with a fully-trained ESD or PSD has public access rights and can freely take their Service Dog into any public place.

1See full definitions in 28 CFR 36.104 at ADA.gov.