Therapy Dog vs Service Dog… What’s the difference?

I had the opportunity for Nabisco and I to be featured in a video, produced by Portland Public Schools on service dogs. The video turned out fantastic and I think it is great that they are supporting the important work that my guide dog and other service dogs do. To watch the video click here!

I love all of the opportunities that I get to educate my fellow staff and students about service dogs and service dog etiquette.

I would however, like to take a moment to describe the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs because there is a fundamental and extremely important difference as these two types of dogs serve VERY DIFFERENT roles. I hear my guide dog referred to so many times as a therapy dog and it bothers me as there is a significant difference.

THERAPY DOGS: Therapy dogs are pet dogs that are registered with local or national organizations (such as Pet Partners) that have passed basic obedience and tests to allow them access to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and libraries to provide animal visitation to patients and children. While there are significant, research driven benefits of animal visitation and animal-assisted therapy, these dogs do not have public access and are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. People are encouraged to pet these dogs and they are brought into hospitals to give people comfort. Libraries have also developed read to the dogs programs to help children practice their reading skills.

SERVICE DOGS: Service dogs on the other hand are dogs that are specifically trained to perform a task to help mitigate a limitation posed by a person’s disability. These dogs are seen as medically necessary and are therefore protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are allowed in any public establishment that the general public is allowed. There are several different types of service dogs, these include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, seizure response dogs, and medical alert dogs. It is important to know that business or persons of interest may ask a service dog handler two questions. 1) Is that dog your service dog? and 2) What specific task is it trained to perform? The task that it is trained to perform must be related to their disability and may not be stated as “emotional support”.

I had my first incident with a store clerk attempting to deny me access to the store because of my guide dog. Although the situation ended in my favor and the store owner actually came and apologized, the incident caused me great anxiety as the store clerk was encroaching on my rights.

I love my ability to work in the schools and reach so many individuals and teach them about the difference between service dogs and therapy dogs and the important work that Nabisco does for me.

Service Dog


Therapy Dog

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