A Support Dog By Any Other Name May Be A ‘Therapy’ Or ‘Service’ or ‘Working’ Dog

Using the terms ‘service dog,’’therapy dog’ and ‘working dog’ interchangeably is a misnomer. While these three classifications are often blended under ’support,’ each type is trained differently to address distinct needs of their handlers, or those they provide support.

Therapy Dogs

A therapy dog provides support at different venues. They are used to be petted, where they offer comfort and affection to groups and organizations requesting their visitations. For instance, a therapy dog and his handler will visit facilities such as hospitals, retirement homes and nursing homes. Additionally, they often visit those who have experienced a trauma in disaster areas, such as wildfires, tsunamis or earthquakes.

Therapy dogs are even trained to help relieve stress in passengers at airports who fear flying. They do the same for students taking final exams at universities, and at elementary school they assist children who are learning to read.

These dogs will often wear a vest or bandanna inscribed with the name of a therapy dog organization. They do not, however have federally granted legal access to the types of public areas afforded to service dogs.

Service Dogs

A service dog helps individuals perform tasks they cannot do for themselves, due specifically to a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] governs the use of service dogs. Differing from the other two classifications, service dogs are the ONLY ones allowed public access, covered under the ADA.

These dogs will often wear a vest with the wording “please do not pet,” indicating that this canine is working for their master. Persons with disabilities are allowed to take their service dogs into public places normally prohibited to dogs, such as on public transportation, and in public buildings, stores, and restaurants.

While a disabled person can train their own service dog, many are taught by a specialized organization with highly trained dog technicians.

Working Dogs

The classification “working dog” is given to canines trained to perform specific tasks or to entertain. Farm dogs, guard dogs, actor dogs, police and military dogs regardless of their ancestry may fall into the general category of working dogs.

The three working breeds, which are used today more than others are German shepherd, Belgian Malinois and Labrador retrievers.

Military Working Dogs [MWD] provide service men with an edge in combat, especially on night missions, where a canine's sight is much greater than a human's. Military dogs can also hear sounds that a human can’t hear and is trained to smell explosives, such as IEDs [ Improvised Explosive Devices], booby traps — which a human cannot detect.

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To sum it up, a therapy dog is available upon request to visit and provide support and comfort for many individuals, whereas a service dog is there to provide support and perform tasks for one individual with a disability. Differing from the other two, while working dogs are directed by one or two individuals, they work for the general good of a group of people.


A Support Dog By Any Other Name May Be A ‘Therapy’ Or ‘Service’ or ‘Working’ Dog


Primary Source: American Kennel Club