Service Dog Registration Of America

What’s the Difference Between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Dog?


The lines are blurry when it comes to what a service animal is vs what counts as an emotional support animal. It can be difficult to tell the difference if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This can make it difficult for businesses to know what to allow in their stores.

An Emotional Support Animal’s sole responsibility is to provide comfort for their owner. Since they are not specifically trained to offer any other services, these animals are not considered “Service Animals”.

A mental health professional must write a letter stating that an emotional support animal would add therapeutic value to a patient. However, a person must have a disability in order to qualify for a Service Dog. Service dogs are specifically trained in a variety of skills to help the disabled individual with day-to-day tasks.

These are just a few of the key differences. Here, we will break down what exactly makes these service and emotional support dogs different.

What role does an Emotional Support Dog play?

An emotional support dog offers emotional comfort for their owner. These animals are not trained to have any specific skills. They don’t perform any special services either. Their main role is providing companionship and comfort to owners with psychiatric ailments.

A service dog can help with issues such as:

– Anxiety
– Depression
– Bi-polarity
– Phobias
– Panic attacks 

Studies have shown that the softness and warmth of a cuddly animal has the ability to improve their owner’s overall mood. 

Having another living being to care for can increase a sense of purpose and feeling of being needed. These animals are meant to give their owners relief from emotional discomfort. Therefore, an emotional support dog acts more like a “pet”. They provide companionship and love. 

The California Disability Rights states that if an animal is only providing a benefit by its comforting presence, then it’s not a service animal. Some examples of what an emotional support dog might do are:

– Provide affection (in the form of cuddling)
– Stay close to their owner

Life for an emotional support dog is like providing unconditional love. Emotional support dogs (if registered) can accompany owners on airlines or stay in residences without paying pet fees. They can even stay in apartments that don’t allow pets! 

However, businesses and establishments are not required to allow emotional support animals to accompany patrons. Emotional support dogs don’t have to be trained in any way. There is the risk that the dog may act out and attack surrounding patrons. This risk is why emotional support animals are not required to be allowed in all establishments. 

What role does a Service Dog play?

Service dogs are trained on an individual basis to perform tasks that will specifically aid the owner. These animals are specifically trained to perform tasks that directly relate to the person’s disability. Each service dog is a “custom-fit”. A person suffering from seizures would have a service dog trained in tasks that would help with a seizure.

Examples include:

– Getting the owner to a safe location during the seizure,
– Alerting someone for help
– Easing the owner to the ground 

A service dog can also remind their owner to take their medication, stop self-mutilation/ self-harm, or remove a disoriented person from a dangerous environment. 

Service animals can be brought on to airlines for no additional fee, regardless of size or breed. People with disabilities have a right to be accompanied by a service animal in most business establishments. Because service dogs are performing a service, they are technically “working”, and not considered pets. They have been professionally trained, so there is no risk of service animals acting out or attacking other people. Service dogs don’t pose as a danger to other people. This is part of the reason they are allowed in businesses, restaurants, and other public places. 

Service dogs are much more than a “companion”. They’re nearly a primary care-giver, and aid the disabled person daily. They offer help with necessary tasks, which allow the person to lead a normal life. Disabled persons would not have this opportunity otherwise. 


While at first glance it may seem that Emotional Support Dogs and Service Dogs provide the same service, they actually do very different things. There are a few similarities between the two categories. 

Both Emotional Support Dogs and Service Dogs are permitted to accompany their owners on (most) airlines. They’re both permitted to stay in apartments without additional pet fees (even if pets aren’t allowed in the complex). Both animals provide a sense of companionship to the owner. However, there are several ways in which they are different.

– Emotional Support Dogs do not have to be specifically trained to aid in the person’s impairment or disability.
– Emotional Support Dogs only provide emotional comfort and companionship to the person.
– Emotional Support Dogs aren’t necessarily allowed into restaurants or businesses. It is up to the establishment.
– An Emotional Support Dog can be personally registered online, or a doctor can provide a letter recommending one.
– Service Dogs have to be specifically trained to aid the owner’s particular disability.
– By law, Service Dogs are permitted to accompany owners to public establishments, such as restaurants or businesses.
– Service Dogs are not pets. They are working animals, and pose no threat to surrounding people or animals.
– A person with a disability must have a letter from a doctor to apply for a service animal. 


Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals can both provide amazing benefits to the individuals who need them. Although they both provide different types and levels of service and care, one thing is undeniable: they have the ability to tremendously help people lead happier lives. 

Consider your life and decide whether an Emotional Support Dog or a Service Dog would be better suited to your needs. If you think you could benefit from either an Emotional Support Animal or a Service Animal after reading this article, talk to a doctor to see if you qualify. They can help you take the necessary steps to find the perfect animal for you!