A service or assistance dog is essentially a dog that has been trained to provide assistance to individuals with disabilities, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The tasks for which a service dog is trained to carry out include but are not limited to:
- Pulling wheelchairs
- Alerting to the sounds (telephone, oven timers, alarm clocks, smoke alarms, baby’s cry)
- Obstacle avoidance
- Locating obstacles on command
- Signaling changes in elevation
- Retrieving objects
- Seeking medical assistance
More than often you’ll notice Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and German shepherds used as service dogs. These specific breeds are chosen for their temperament, intelligence, and size—they are big enough to carry out most of the labor-intensive tasks, small enough to fit comfortably in a harness and be the least obstructive as possible when indoors. Most service dogs are bred and trained from a very early age to perform their required tasks. It takes months and sometimes years before they can be legitimately certified.
A therapy dog provides emotional healing and comfort to those in need and can be found in such settings as hospitals, schools, and retirement homes. There are no favored breeds for therapy dogs; they come in all shapes and sizes. Though service dogs and therapy dogs can both offer emotional support, unlike a service dog, a therapy dog are not necessarily raised to pass certification guidelines. Therapy dogs are known for bringing companionship, affection, and happiness into people’s lives, especially those they may have to be in confined living situations. Therapy dogs can bring the ill and aging population some much needed TLC, including:
- Helping people with learning difficulties
- Helping people with mental and physical therapy
- Bringing comfort to people in stressful situations such as those recovering from disaster
Getting a dog certified as one that provides therapy can be as simple as passing the American Kennel Club’s CGC test and volunteering. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, get in touch with a local therapy dog foundation that works with regular dog owners to prepare them and their dogs for this kind of work. It can be extremely rewarding to share the love that your dog gives you with people who really need it. Always seek out reputable organizations that offer animal-assisted therapy programs and training. Make sure to have your dog undergo an evaluation and training by an experienced trainer.
Lately there’s been a considerable about of controversy regarding the difference of the two because some people are taking advantage of the service dog laws with dogs that are not officially registered. This is not only illegal, but it’s making it hard for people who really need their canine companions. A therapy dog might be seen as a necessity for a lot of people; however, they are still recognized as pets. This is why they are not accepted in too many establishments outside of hospitals and other care facilities. Whether helping people with day-to-day tasks, or simply curling up in a stranger’s lap, both service and therapy dogs are extremely important to our society but in this compare in contrast we notice there are stark differences between the two. For a disabled person, it is an absolute day-to-day necessity of having a well-bred and trained service dog.