Service Dog And Therapy Dog Certifications- Background Definitions

At my Utah Dog Training company we do a lot of service and therapy dog certifications.  I’ve found over the years, though, that there is a lot of confusion regarding just what is a service dog and what is a therapy dog.

The difference lies in what the dog is trained for and what the dog’s job is.  Answering that will help you understand what type of training you are looking for.

  • A service dog is a dog that is trained to complete a service for someone with a disability.  The disability could be PTSD, anxiety disorders, people who are hard of hearing, hard of seeing, etc.  It’s important to note that not all disabilities are visible.  It is highly inappropriate for you to approach someone on the street and ask them what their dog is for, why they have a service dog, or any other similar question.
  • A therapy dog is a dog that is trained to assist in facilities where people are sick or confined to a bed or room for other reasons.  These dogs may simply go cuddle with residents at an assisted living facility, they may play fetch with youth at a youth treatment center, or they may put on a trick show at a kids ward of a hospital.  They’re main function is to be a comfort and companionship for residents of these facilities.

Service And Therapy Dog Certifications- Does Your Dog Need Them?

So the question can come up, when it comes to service and therapy dog certifications, does my dog need one in order to do the task that I want?  The answer isn’t always so straight-forward.

  • When it comes to service dogs there are no federal panel, no federal governing body, and no standardized federal regulations about what a service dog actually is and what kind of training is required.  Instead, through acts of Congress, we know that someone with a disability recognized by the ADA is allowed to bring their service dog with them into any public place they wish.  Do you need a certification to do so?  Eh…sometimes.  There is no clear precedent on this matter.  Many federal facilities may require certification, certain housing developments may require certification, and other facilities may do so as well.  The legality in these facilities being able to petition certification before allowing access to the premises is a gray area.  Our recommendation, of course, is to get your dog certified and avoid any potential issues.  For your information, any publicly controlled area may kick you off their premises if your dog is posing a threat to anyone there.  That is highly subjective, though, as what is a threat to one may not be a threat to others.  When we train service dogs we make it expressly clear that the dog is NEVER allowed to go up to people to greet them, sniff them, etc.  For some, merely having a dog approach could be seen as a threat.
  • Therapy dogs have less rights than do service dogs.  Therapy dogs are not technically allowed into public places like grocery stores, movie theaters, shopping malls, etc.  Their access to public places is typically limited to where they are performing their therapy.  Also, it is within the prerogative of the facility where the service is being rendered to set their standards of what the dog must do, the level of training the dog must have, etc.  For example, when our company fields calls for people wanting therapy dog training and certification we always ask if they’ve cleared the request through the facility where they wish to volunteer and if that facility accepts our certifications.

The bottom line is that, while there are very few laws governing service and therapy dog certifications it is still a good idea to get them for your dog.

Service And Therapy Dog Certifications- How To Get Them

Unfortunately many service and therapy dog certifications that you find online come from unscrupulous companies.  You simply pay your money and without any evaluation of your dog’s training they’ll send you a certificate.  I think these companies will soon be cracked down on because they are making it easy for dogs without training to get certified.

Your best bet is to seek out a reputable company in your community to find these certifications.