The Difference Between Emotional Support Vs Service Animal

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If you are using the terms emotional support animal (ESA) and service dog interchangeably, you aren’t the only one.

While both are in the service of aiding people, there are several key differences between an emotional support vs a service animal.

Both of these types of working animals provide support to people who need emotional or physical assistance.

However, while service dogs and emotional support animals fulfill important tasks and roles for their handlers, the law treats them differently.

Understanding the type of support they provide and the legal protection they receive can help you select a service dog or emotional support animal for your needs.

Keep on reading to find out what is a service dog and what is an emotional support animal and what legal rights are offered to them.

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What’s The Main Difference Between An Emotional Support Animal Vs Service Animal?

The biggest difference between an emotional support animal vs service animal is that service animals have more legal rights than ESAs. Essentially, service dogs can go pretty much everywhere the general public has access to and should be allowed to any public place. 

An emotional support animal, on the other hand, has limited legal rights and doesn’t have unlimited access to public places. 

For centuries, dogs have been working with people, offering protection, comfort, and help for everything from hunting, alerting, and farming.

But, in recent decades, dogs have been recognized and given legal rights for the services they provide for those people who need emotional and physical assistance. 

Nowadays, you are likely to come across service dogs, working dogs, and emotional support animals on the street, in restaurants, in public transport, and even flying in airplanes.

But do you know how a service dog is defined? Or, are the emotional support animal vs service animal the same in the eyes of the law?

Knowing exactly what is a service dog and what is an emotional support animal can help you figure out what type of service animal is best for your needs.

Furthermore, understanding the rules and legal protections that are offered to these two types of service animals can help you avoid unpleasant situations and questions.

When asked, most people would tell you that a service dog and an emotional support animal are the same. However, these two types of service animals are meant to do completely different tasks.

A service dog is individually trained to work or perform a certain task for a person with a physical, mental, intellectual, or other type of disability.

Tasks performed by a service animal can include pulling a wheelchair, alerting a person to take medicine, retrieving dropped items, or any other task that relates directly to a person’s disability. 

Service dogs can also provide emotional support to their handlers. However, they are trained to perform specific tasks and provide assistance to a person with a disability.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), emotional support animals aren’t considered service animals. While they can be trained for specific owners, emotional support animals aren’t trained to perform specific tasks to help a person with a disability.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal rather than a work animal that provides comfort and support to a person with a psychological disorder. 

And although they don’t have to go through special training like service animals, knowing how to train an emotional support animal can make your ESA better at offering you support in the time of need.

What Is A Service Animal?

As defined by the ADA, a service animal is “any dog that is individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Furthermore, the Americans with Disabilities Act states that a person can have a “physical, intellectual, sensory, psychiatric or other mental disability.” 

The task a service dog was trained to do must directly be related to their handler’s disability. Some examples of service dogs are the work they can do include being guide dogs for the blind, signal dogs for deaf people, autism assistance dogs, and seizure response dogs. 

There is no doubt that service dogs provide emotional support and comfort to their handlers. But they only meet the definition of a service animal if they are trained to do a task that a person with a disability can’t do themselves. 

As mentioned previously, one of the biggest differences between a service dog vs emotional support animal is that service dogs have free access to places where animals are forbidden. This means that service dogs can go into restaurants, schools, libraries, public transport, and all other public places. 

Furthermore, persons with disability are protected from discrimination in finding housing, and landlords must provide accommodation for the handler and a service dog, regardless of a no-pet policy, 

The same thing applies to all types of transportation, including air travel. The only issue is that every airline has a specific set of rules regarding service animals. In most cases, the airline requires a dog to sit in the owner’s lap or at their feet. Service dogs are not subjected to any of the usual pet fees that you’d have to pay when flying with a pet dog on a plane. 

To get a service dog, a person would first have to be diagnosed with a disability and then get in touch with a service dog agency. These organizations have service dog trainers that teach the dog and the handler how to become a team.

Going through a service dog school with qualified service dog trainers is our recommendation if you’re looking to get a service dog. However, your also have the option to self-train your service dog.

When it comes to service dog training, several breeds make the best service dogs and are most commonly seen assisting persons with disabilities. Most service dog schools will start training their puppies from birth until puppies are approximately 2 years old.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

One of the major differences between a service animal vs emotional support dog is that the latter isn’t considered a service animal under the ADA. And although they can be trained, emotional support animals, unlike service dogs, aren’t required to do any specific tasks or duties that will assist with their owner’s disability. 

However, this doesn’t minimize the positive effect emotional support animals have on people with psychological disabilities. 

Emotional support animals are considered companion animals that can ease some phobias, anxiety, and depression in their owners. There are around forty different disorders on the approved list for an emotional support animal. 

To be considered as an emotional support animal, it must be prescribed by a mental health professional for a patient with diagnosed emotional or physiological disorder. 

Owners of emotional support dogs might have a number of different emotional and mental problems, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on.  

Another important difference between an emotional support vs service animal is that emotional support animals receive fewer legal protections through the ADA. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals don’t have unlimited access to all public spaces and fall under the no-pet policy.

However, the Fair House Act states that animals that qualify as emotional support animals are eligible for reasonable accommodations. In this case, a landlord or homeowners association must waive a no-pet rule or pet deposit and must accommodate a person with an emotional or physiological disability and their emotional support animal. 

The law prevents the homeowner’s association or the landlord from asking a person’s details about their disability.

However, owners are encouraged to have their medical letter with them as proof, should anybody question the presence of an emotional support animal. But, don’t forget, in the eyes of the law, business owners aren’t obliged to accommodate an emotional support animal.

The growing number of emotional support animals sparked the debate whether or not these animals should be allowed access into public places. After much controversy and debate, a new law states that airlines no longer have to accommodate emotional support animals.

This means that as of January 2021, airlines no longer consider emotional support animals as special assistance animals for air travel.

Consequently, it’s now up to airlines to set up their policies for emotional support animals. Most major U.S. airline companies are considering emotional support animals as pets, making them a subject of regular paperwork and fees. 

The main reason for this course of action is the growing number of emotional support animals and the fact that they don’t need to receive any special training. This means that no one can expect that every emotional support animal will behave appropriately or well in public places. 

One thing that remains the same for a service animal vs emotional support is that they aren’t obliged to have anything that distinguishes them from other dogs. There is no law that states that service dogs or emotional support animals have to wear special vests or harnesses to make them more visible to the general public.

However, if you have a service dog, you might want to consider getting them a vest. While not a necessity, wearing a special vest tells people working in public places that your dog is not a simple pet and that they have free access to go whenever you need to go.

The owners of emotional support animals, on the other hand, should always have their medical documentation with them. This can serve as proof that your emotional support animal has a benedictional therapeutic effect by providing you comfort and support. 

Traits To Look For In An Emotional Support Animal

Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not limited to dogs. As long as the animal provides you comfort and emotional support, you can use a cat, a peacock, or a parrot as an emotional support animal. 

When it comes to dogs as emotional support animals, certain traits can be a good indicator of whether or not your pooch can make a good emotional support dog. An ESA dog should be committed to you and also in tune and responsive to your commands and emotions. 

While a boisterous puppy can still become a good emotional support dog, it will need much more training than a naturally laid-back and calm dog. Generally speaking, people-oriented and peaceful dogs are much more suited for emotional support animals and are easier to train.

Another thing to look for in a potential emotional support dog is that they are around one year old. At this time, the dog is still young enough that you can form a strong bond with them but they are out of the puppy phase.

That’s not to say that puppies can’t make great emotional support animals, because they can! You will just need to look for a people-oriented breed that is used to working closely with people. Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, poodles, American Staffordshire terriers, and Border collies are some of the best emotional support dog breeds. 

FAQs About Emotional Support Animal Vs Service Dog

Is an emotional support animal the same as a service animal?

Emotional support animals and service animals aren’t the same thing. Both of these types of working animals can provide emotional support and comfort for people who need it. However, a service dog is individually trained to perform a specific job or tasks that are directly involved with their handler’s disability.

On the other hand, any type of pet can become an emotional support animal, and ESAs aren’t required to have any type of formal training. Furthermore, an emotional support animal provides therapeutic benefits to a person who is diagnosed with a mental, intellectual, or other type of physical disability. 

Are emotional support dogs allowed everywhere?

Unlike service dogs who have free access to all public places, emotional support dogs aren’t allowed everywhere. 

Emotional support animals that don’t qualify as service animals under the ADA still qualify for reasonable accommodations. This means that homeowner’s associations and landlords should waive a no-pet policy and pet fees for a person with an emotional support animal.

However, an individual with a disability might be asked to provide proof that the emotional support animal in question was prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. And although legally, emotional support animals aren’t allowed into public places, individuals with a disability are encouraged to carry their medical documentation as proof of their animal’s therapeutic services. 

Can a service dog be for emotional support?

Although most service dogs also provide emotional comfort and support to their owners, they meet the legal definition of a service animal only if they can do a specific task that the handler can’t do on their own.

An emotional support animal can be any animal that provides comfort, reassuring presence, and support, and if your service dog does that for you, it can also offer you emotional support. 

Can an emotional support animal be denied?

Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords and homeowners associations can’t deny emotional support animals or their handlers based solely on disability.

However, a person with a disability might be asked to provide medical documentation as proof that the animal in question is prescribed to them by a licensed mental health professional for a medically diagnosed disability. 

The Final Verdict

While many people don’t know the difference between an emotional support vs service animal, they are two very different types of service animals. 

Both of these working animals do important jobs and make a huge difference in the lives of their owners by offering support and performing specific tasks.

While both have important jobs, service dogs and emotional support animals have different legal rights:

  • A service dog has access to all public places that are open to the general public.
  • An emotional support animal has the right to reasonable accommodation and can’t be denied under the Fair Housing Act.
  • Service dogs are allowed on planes and are exempt from the no-pet policy.
  • Emotional support animals are viewed by air companies as simple pets and are subjected to fees and necessary paperwork.

Do you have an Emotional Support Animal or a Service Animal?

If so, tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.

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Emotional Support vs Service Animal - Yellow Lab puppy sitting at feet offering his paw.

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The Difference Between Emotional Support Vs Service Animal was last modified: June 23rd, 2021 by LTHQ

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