Service Dog or Emotional Support Animal?

is my dog a service dog or emotional support animal


Dogs have been assisting and working with people since ancient times, they have aided in everything from hunting, farming land to protecting both homes and livestock.

Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals also fill important roles to their owner/handler, but they are not the same. Each are defined differently, both in the tasks they provide and the legal rights they are afforded.


Service dogs are defined by the Americans with Disabilities  Act (ADA)  as animals that are specifically trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. The dogs work must be in direct relation to the handler’s disability. With the passing of time we continue to learn more ways in which dogs can assist humans. Below are just a few examples of things a Service Dogs can do:

  Guide dogs assist people with blindness or low vision navigate the world.

  Hearing dogs assist people with deafness or diminished hearing to alert their handler to sounds, such as a telephone ringing or a knock on a door.

  Service Dogs can assist people that are physically limited. They may open cabinets and doors, retrieve items from the refrigerator or carry their handler’s personal items or medication.

  Medical Alert Dogs can be trained to alert their handler to an oncoming seizure or to protect them during a seizure. Medical Alert Dogs can I also warn a diabetic person to changes in their blood sugar.


The ADA allows Service Dogs to have full access rights, that means they’re allowed in places where animals are otherwise not welcome. A few examples include: restaurants, parks and beaches, retail stores, hotels and other public spaces. They must be permitted in housing even if there is a no pet policy in place. Service Dogs are also welcome on airplanes and other public transportation without incurring fees. Note, each airline has it’s own rules regarding service dogs, please check with your carrier before your flight.


Emotional support animals are considered companion animals to help those battling with depression, loneliness and to ease anxiousness. Although they do not have the same rights under the ADA that in no way minimizes the support these dogs provide for their owner/handler. To be considered an ESA it must have a prescription letter written by a mental health professional for a patient who’s been diagnosed with an emotional or psychological disorder, such as depression, an anxiety disorder or an individual who suffers panic attacks.


Unlike Service Dogs ESA‘s have limited legal rights. The Fair Housing Act mandates "reasonable accommodations" for ESA’s even in housing that has a no pet policy in place. The air carrier access act requires all airlines to allow ESA’s on flights,  travelers must have a letter signed by a doctor, licensed therapist or a mental health professional to be a qualified ESA. Note, each airline may have Individual requirements, please check with your airline before your flight.

It is fraudulent to represent your dog as a service animal if it is not.