Everything You Need to Know About Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

It’s no secret that dogs are many families’ go-to pet. Dogs are renowned for their companionship and loyalty. For thousands of years, they have been bred to be social beings who build strong ties with people. As a result, dogs are frequently seen as friendly, compassionate, and loyal pets that can comfort and support their owners.

In addition, dogs are also quite trainable and able to adapt to many surroundings. They are capable of being trained to carry out a wide range of jobs, from helping people with impairments to offering security and safety. Due to their adaptability, they are a desirable companion for households with a variety of demands and lifestyles.

Furthermore, dogs are frequently considered to be excellent with kids and can be a wonderful addition to a home with kids. They can give kids a sense of company and stability while also helping them learn responsibility and empathy.

As man’s best friend, their devotion cements their role in so many people’s lives. One of the most beneficial ways they improve lives is not only through companionship, however.

Service dogs and emotional support animals as trained by Open Range Academy provide profoundly essential functions for their owners. They help people with disabilities or illnesses thanks to their support, ultimately changing the lives of millions.

Confused with one another, service dogs and emotional support animals are different.

Both help their owners navigate their daily lives but do so in significantly varying ways. Read on to learn more about these incredible animals.

What is a Service Dog?

Service dog

A specially trained dog known as a service dog helps people with impairments complete tasks they cannot complete on their own. Mobility assistance, such as pulling a wheelchair, picking up dropped objects, opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, and alerting their handler to sounds or threats in their environment, are a few examples of these duties.

To help their handlers overcome the restrictions of their disability and boost their independence, service dogs are trained to carry out these activities. Professional organizations with expertise in task-specific service dog training often train these canines.

Service dogs are legally protected, and their handlers have the ability to take them to places that generally do not allow pets, like restaurants, shops, and airports. This is due to the fact that service dogs are not regarded as pets but rather as essential medical equipment for their handlers.

A service dog is ordinarily suited to a specific purpose. Service dogs help their owners with physical disabilities mostly, which often hinder their ability to navigate their lives fully independently. Some of the following are examples of service dogs:

  • Guide Dogs: Easily one of the most well-known types of service dogs, guide dogs typically help the visually impaired to navigate their surroundings. Guide dogs are trained to walk in a straight line, avoid obstacles, stop at curbs and stairs, and navigate around objects that might be hazardous to their handler. They also learn to follow commands from their handler, such as “left,” “right,” “forward,” and “stop”. When they are between 18 and 24 months old, guide dogs typically start their training, which lasts for several months of intensive training. They are carefully matched with their handlers based on their personalities, levels of energy, and other criteria. They are trained by professional organizations that specialize in guide dog training.
  • Hearing Dogs: These service dogs are often assigned to those with impaired hearing. They will alert their owners to alarms, the ringing of a phone, or doorbells, among other sounds that require attention.
  • They are trained to make physical contact with their handler and lead them to the source of the sound or signal. For example, hearing dogs may nudge their handler and lead them to the door if they hear a doorbell. Hearing dogs undergo extensive training to learn how to distinguish between different sounds and signals, and how to alert their handlers in a way that is effective and non-intrusive.
  • Medical Alert Dogs: In the event of a medical emergency, such as a seizure, collapse, or drop in blood sugar, these service dogs will notify a career or medical professional of their owner’s state. Medical Alert Dogs are a type of service dog that is trained to assist individuals with medical conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, and severe allergies. These dogs are trained to recognize and respond to specific medical alerts, such as changes in their handler’s blood sugar levels or the onset of a seizure. Medical Alert Dogs are trained to perform tasks such as alerting their handler to a medical emergency, fetching medication, and seeking help from others. These dogs undergo intensive training to learn how to detect changes in their handler’s body chemistry or behavior and respond accordingly.
  • Mobility Dogs: For those with diminished strength or a similar physical impairment, these service dogs will help their owners to complete tasks such as getting dressed. They often provide them with heightened balance. Mobility dogs are specialized service dogs trained to assist individuals with mobility impairments or physical disabilities. These dogs receive intensive training to teach them how to carry out a number of duties that make it easier and more flexible for their handlers to navigate their surroundings. For people with mobility issues, mobility dogs can be a lifesaver, giving them a greater sense of independence and freedom.

A key factor of service dogs is also that they must be a particular species and must receive specific training. This is due to the unique requirements of their role.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an assistance animal that provides therapeutic support to individuals with emotional or mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. ESAs are not trained to perform specific tasks or assist with physical disabilities but provide comfort and emotional support through their presence.

Emotional support animals, unlike assistance dogs, are not needed to perform any particular activities and do not require special training. Instead, they offer emotional support by simply being present with their handler. An emotional support animal can be any animal from almost any species. It isn’t exclusively a career for dogs. ESAs can be any type of animal, including dogs, cats, birds, and even reptiles, as long as they provide a therapeutic benefit to their handler. 

It’s important to note that emotional support animals are not the same as service dogs and do not have the same level of legal protection. While ESAs may be allowed in housing and on airplanes, they are not permitted in other public places where pets are not typically allowed, and their handlers do not have the same rights and protections as service dog handlers.

However, dogs are often chosen for their friendly and loyal temperament. Just some of the mental illnesses that an emotional support animal can help alleviate include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Severe phobias
  • PTSD

Having an animal as a companion can give people a sense of responsibility and purpose, which is particularly beneficial for those suffering from mental illnesses. Taking care of an animal can provide you with a sense of structure, regularity, and accomplishment that can help you manage your emotions.

In connection, they can provide a distraction from negative thoughts and feelings by engaging in activities such as playing with, grooming, or training their animal. Individuals can focus on something positive and enjoyable, which can help improve their mood and overall well-being.

Much of this comfort is derived from their company alone. Simply by receiving the unconditional love of an emotional support animal, an owner can source profound reassurance.

Do You Need to Register Your Pet?

Service dogs must register once trained and receive sufficient certification. This is due to the many ‘no pets’ exemptions they receive. Service dogs are allowed on flights and in kitchens where most ordinary pets are not. You may be asked to produce certification to prove this.

Emotional support animals are slightly different. You may find yourself asking ‘Are ESA letters worth the money?’, and in most instances, we are inclined to say yes. Much like with the registration of a service dog, ESA letters prove that your pet is performing an important role.

When boarding a flight or applying for housing with ‘no pets’ rules, you can produce your ESA letters to verify your support animal. Your ESA letter is ordinarily produced via your mental health professional, on letterhead, with the doctor’s official license number.

The content of the letter will determine why you require an emotional support animal. In some instances, this letter will need to be updated annually, so it must also be dated.

Final Thoughts

Though service dogs and emotional support animals have their differences, namely in their purpose, they both share a profound sense of duty. If you feel you could benefit from an ESA, contact your medical health professional today for relevant details on how to move forward.