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Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs?

A service dog is sitting.

We come across so many acronyms throughout the day that it can sometimes be confusing to distinguish between the meanings. In the pet world, terms like ESA are often heard in conversations, but one might not always know what ESA exactly means. Many might confuse ESA or emotional support animals with a service dog, but emotional support animals are different from service dogs.

Many dog owners are curious about emotional support animals and how to get their dogs certified. At times, there is overlap in thinking regarding ESAs and Service Dogs, especially when it comes to dog owners.

However, there are a few key differentiating factors between the two certifications for Fido.

Differences between Emotional Support Animals and Service Dogs

According to the ADA, an emotional support animal is used in conjunction or as a therapy treatment plan. In contrast, service dogs are trained and certified to perform specific tasks for their handler.

Emotional Support Animals

Any animal can be considered an emotional support animal or comfort animal. ESAs do not provide specific tasks fulfillment for their handlers or owners. However, they do provide support in other ways.

Furthermore, emotional support animals must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a mental health condition. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist are acceptable types of mental health professionals that can prescribe an emotional support animal.

Additionally, emotional support animals can be of any breed and any age.

Some of the ways emotional support animals assist their owners are through:

  • Companionship
  • Relieving loneliness
  • Aiding with depression and anxiety
  • Easing certain phobias

Many individuals struggling with mental health conditions or extreme grief from a loss seek companionship from an animal(s). Dogs are wonderful companions and provide a great deal of emotional release for their owners. 

Although other animals can receive an ESA licensing, canines are the most popular animal for emotional support animals as they are highly trainable and eager to please.

Please check your state’s current laws and guidelines surrounding emotional support animals for the most updated information regarding certification and renewal. Check this site out for information from each state about ESA licensing.

Since emotional support animals are not service dogs, they are not specifically trained and certified to perform certain tasks for their owners. However, pet owners will receive an ESA letter. An ESA letter is not a legal document but informs landlords, airlines, and employers that the bearer of the letter has a mental health condition that requires the animal's presence at certain times.

Service Dogs

According to the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act): "Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities."

"The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability."

According to state laws: "A person with a psychiatric disability is entitled to be accompanied by an assistance animal either on-site at any housing facility (e.g., hospital, nursing home).

Only dogs can be service animals.  They must be trained to perform tasks for their owners. Examples of these tasks include guiding the blind, alerting hearing-impaired owners, pulling clothes out of washers or dryers, assisting with seizures, and more. Service dogs are not only limited to people who have physical disabilities but also psychiatric ones as well.

There is no certification or formal training required to become a service dog.  Some groups and organizations provide tests and certifications. Still, these typically do not mean an individual possesses any additional skill set than the dog who sleeps at the foot of their bed every evening. Their owners can train dogs in addition to being taught by professionals.

Moreover, service dogs receive special training and then receive a service dog certification. Additionally, they have certain rights that emotional support animals do not. They have more housing rights and are allowed in stores, restaurants, and aircraft where other pets or ESAs are not permitted.

Pet Services in Chicagoland

Here at Doggy Detail, we understand that work and life happen, and pet owners may need assistance caring for their beloved Fido or Fluffy. We raise the woof with our cat and dog services. From dog walking to pet sitting, we are here to help when autumn adventures call! Give us a call at (847) 212-5616 with any questions about our dog walking or other services. We are also available through email at or fill out our contact form.

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