Service Dogs vs Therapy Dogs: Unleashing the Key Differences

In a world full of wagging tails, wet noses, and unconditional love, therapy dogs and service dogs play extraordinary roles. These remarkable canines go beyond being our best friends; they are lifelines, companions, and healers for people facing various challenges. Whether it’s providing vital assistance to individuals with disabilities or offering emotional support and comfort, these four-legged heroes work their magic to make a positive difference in the lives of countless people.

Join us on an insightful journey as we delve into the captivating world of therapy dogs and service dogs, exploring their roles, unique qualities, and the profound impact they have on individuals in need.

Understanding Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs

When it comes to therapy dogs and service dogs, it’s crucial to understand the distinctions between their roles and responsibilities. While both types of dogs provide support and assistance, their functions and training differ significantly.
Therapy Dogs on

Therapy Dogs: Bringing Smiles and Comfort

Therapy dogs have a soothing presence and offer companionship and emotional support to individuals in various settings. Their gentle and friendly nature provides comfort and joy to those in need.

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Service Dogs: A Helping Hand in Independence

Service dogs develop unbreakable bonds with their handlers, fostering trust and reliance on their assistance. These incredible canines are not just pets but highly trained companions that provide invaluable support.

Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort, emotional support, and a sense of companionship to individuals in various settings. They work with handlers who bring them to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other institutions to interact with people in need. The primary goal of therapy dogs is to improve the well-being and quality of life of those they encounter. Here are the top 20 breeds of dogs used as therapy dogs.
Service dogs, on the other hand, are trained to perform specific tasks and assist individuals with disabilities. These tasks can vary widely depending on the handler’s needs. Service dogs may help people with mobility limitations by retrieving objects, opening doors, or providing stability. They can also alert their handlers to sounds or impending medical issues. The primary objective of service dogs is to provide practical assistance that enables individuals with disabilities to lead more independent and fulfilling lives. Here are the top 20 breeds of dogs used as service dogs.


Therapy Dogs

Their primary function is to brighten someone’s day. They are commonly found in places where people need emotional support such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. They are known to help in reducing anxiety, blood pressure, and even to improve mental health conditions like depression.

Service Dogs

These dogs are assigned to people with disabilities. They assist these individuals in their day-to-day tasks like opening doors, fetching things, or even more complex tasks like recognizing and reacting to seizures in people with epilepsy.


Therapy Dogs

These dogs need to be social and adaptable to various environments and situations. Their training usually involves learning how to behave around different people and in different environments. They don’t typically need advanced task-specific training.

Service Dogs

These dogs undergo extensive and specific training. This training is catered towards the disability of their handler, teaching the dogs how to perform tasks that the handler can’t do themselves due to their disability.


Therapy Dogs

They can be certified through various organizations, but there is no legally mandated certification process. Each organization has its own requirements for certification, which usually involve a behavioral test.

Service Dogs

Legally, there is no required certification or registration process for service dogs. However, they must meet the criteria set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which primarily entails being trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.


Therapy Dogs

They generally do not have special access rights to public places unless explicitly allowed by the facility. They are typically brought into public facilities on an invitation basis.

Service Dogs

Under the ADA, they have legal rights to accompany their handlers in most public places, including businesses, government buildings, and modes of public transportation.

Public Behavior:

Therapy Dogs

They must be well-behaved, friendly, and comfortable around different people and animals. They are also expected to stay calm in different environments.

Service Dogs

They are expected to be under control at all times, and should not show signs of aggression. Despite distractions, they are trained to focus on their work, to ensure the safety of their handler.

Health Benefits:

Therapy Dogs

Interaction with therapy dogs can lower blood pressure, promote the release of beneficial hormones like oxytocin, and reduce levels of stress hormones like cortisol. They can help improve mental health by reducing feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

Service Dogs

They help with practical tasks, thereby enhancing their handlers’ independence, safety, and quality of life. They can also help mitigate the effects of certain medical conditions, respond to emergencies, and even fetch medication.

Handler’s Disability:

Therapy Dogs

A therapy dog handler does not need to have a disability. They merely accompany the dog to facilitate therapy sessions for others.

Service Dogs

They are assigned to handlers who have a disability, as defined by the ADA.

Dog Breeds:

Therapy Dogs

Can be of any breed. However, their suitability as a therapy dog depends more on their individual temperament and behavior rather than their breed.

Service Dogs

They can also be of any breed. However, depending on the type of tasks they need to perform, their breed and size might be considered during their training.

Length of Service:

Therapy Dogs

They can serve for as long as they maintain their calm and comforting behavior, are in good health, and are capable of handling the emotional labor that comes with therapy work. Age and health status are key factors in determining their service length.

Service Dogs

They generally serve until they can no longer perform their tasks efficiently. The length of service can be influenced by their health condition, the demands of their specific task, and their ability to maintain focus in various environments.

Costs and Expenses:

Therapy Dogs

The costs associated typically include general pet care costs, training, and potential certification or registration fees. These costs are relatively modest when compared to the costs for service dogs.

Service Dogs

These dogs are often more expensive due to their extensive, specialized training. Also, maintaining their health for peak performance may require more regular veterinary care, leading to additional costs.

Task Specialization:

Therapy Dogs

Their primary role is to provide emotional comfort and support, so they do not need to specialize in specific tasks.

Service Dogs

These dogs are highly specialized and are trained to perform tasks directly related to the handler’s disability.

Therapy Dogs

They don’t have the same legal protections as service dogs, and misrepresenting a therapy dog as a service dog is illegal.

Service Dogs

These dogs are protected under the ADA, and misrepresenting a pet as a service dog is a federal offense.


Therapy dogs and service dogs are incredible creatures that bring joy, support, and healing to individuals in need. Whether it’s the independence and empowerment provided by service dogs or the comforting presence of therapy dogs, these remarkable canines make an immeasurable impact on the lives of countless people. Let us cherish and support these extraordinary canines as they continue to unleash their magic and make our world a better place, one wagging tail at a time.


How can I train my dog to be a therapy dog?
Training a dog to be a therapy dog involves basic obedience training, socialization, and exposure to various environments. Specialized therapy dog training programs and evaluations by therapy dog organizations or evaluators are also recommended.
Can any breed of dogs become a therapy dog?
While certain breeds may be more commonly associated with therapy work, any breed has the potential to become a therapy dog given the right temperament, sociability, and training.
How long does it take to train a therapy dog?
The duration of training a therapy dog can vary depending on factors such as breed, temperament, and prior training. However, continuous training and reinforcement are necessary to maintain a therapy dog’s skills throughout their working life.
Can I register my dog as a therapy animal?

Yes, you can register your dog as a therapy animal. The registration process typically involves documentation, evaluations, and compliance with regulations set by therapy animal organizations.

Are therapy dogs the same as emotional support animals?
No, therapy dogs and emotional support animals serve different roles. Therapy dogs provide comfort and support to individuals in various settings, while emotional support animals primarily offer companionship and comfort to their handlers in their everyday lives.
Can a dog be a service dog and a therapy dog?
While it is possible for a dog to have dual roles as a service dog and a therapy dog, it can be challenging due to the distinct training requirements and responsibilities associated with each role. It is important to consider the individual dog’s abilities, temperament, and suitability for both roles.
Do therapy dogs have the same rights as service dogs?
Therapy dogs do not have the same legal rights as service dogs. Service dogs are granted specific public access rights and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Therapy dogs typically work in specific settings under the guidance and regulations of therapy dog programs or organizations.
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