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Dogs with Jobs: Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Facility Dogs, and Emotional Support Animals

woman cuddling with pregnant poodle in a whelping box
Getting ready for Mina puppies.

When I began my breeding program one of my main goals was to breed dogs that could change people’s lives. All my pups enrich my life daily, but some dogs can be trained to significantly improve their owner’s quality of life and even save their lives. There are different types of working dogs though and so I thought it would be helpful to go into some specifics.

white poodle in service dog harness laying on floor
Standard Poodle Service Dog.

Service Dogs are trained for one person to help mitigate a disability. They are protected by the ADA and given the right to enter public places. Examples would be a diabetic alert, seizure response, mobility assist, hearing assist, autism assist, psychiatric assist, and seeing-eye. The ADA mandates that service dogs have full public access rights, which means they are allowed to go places where animals are forbidden. They can be brought into restaurants, stores, libraries, and other public spaces. They must be permitted in housing, even if other pets are not allowed. Service dogs are also allowed on airplanes and other public transport. One caveat: each airline has its own rules regarding service dogs. Most require that the dog sits on the traveler’s lap or at their feet. Dogs cannot block the aisle or sit in the emergency exit row. Service dogs are exempt from the pet fees that airlines charge.

little girl reading a book to a poodle therapy dog
Poodle reading buddy.

Therapy dogs play a different helping role than service dogs. These are dogs that — with their human teammate (often the dog’s owner) — volunteer in clinical settings, such as hospitals, mental health institutions, hospices, schools, and nursing homes, where they provide comfort and affection in the course of their work. Therapy dogs are trained to be comfortable in new environments and to interact with different people. They should have a calm temperament, be unfazed by unfamiliar noises and movements, be comfortable being handled, and love people. Although they are defined as comfort dogs and often used in therapeutic settings, therapy dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA and don’t have the same legal right to access in public spaces. There are no uniform state or national rules that regulate and certify therapy dogs, and different organizations have different guidelines. As a general rule, therapy dogs should be trained, insured, and licensed by the non-profit that’s offering their services.

Facility dogs are trained to work as therapy dogs, but they work solely in one location. They tend to work full-time and generally the owner is the handler. They may not be trained to perform specific tasks, but they will need a high level of obedience.

black and white sign stating my poodle is my therapy

Emotional support dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA. They may be trained for a specific owner, but they are not trained for specific tasks or duties to aid a person with a disability, and this is the main difference between ESAs and service dogs. This doesn’t minimize the support these dogs provide for people with a psychological disorder. They’re considered companion animals and ease anxiety, depression, some phobias, and loneliness. To be considered an emotional support dog, it must be prescribed by a mental health professional for a patient with a diagnosed psychological or emotional disorder, such as anxiety disorder, major depression, or panic attacks. Unlike service dogs owners, ESA owners have only limited legal rights and those typically require a letter of diagnosis from the owner’s doctor or psychiatrist. While they don’t have unlimited access to public spaces, the Fair Housing Act mandates “reasonable accommodations” for emotional support animals even in buildings that don’t allow pets. As of January 2021, airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals.

I hope you found this information helpful. Poodles excel in all these tasks due to their intelligence and their love of people. It is a true delight to see puppy I helped bring into this world grow up to be such a life changing companion. If you are are looking for a service dog, therapy dog, or just a devoted pet, don't hesitate to contact me.


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