Which is Which: Therapy Dog or Service Dog?

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Which Is Which: Therapy Dog or Service Dog?

AKC GoodDog! Helpline trainer Christie Canfield, who teaches therapy dog classes and works with service dogs, explains the difference in therapy dogs and service dogs.

A question we are frequently asked at the AKC GoodDog! Helpline is 'Can I train my dog to be a therapy or service dog?'  The difference is often confusing, yet the requirements for each job are nearly polar opposites. Buck, pictured above, is a therapy dog who works in a children's reading program at schools and libraries. Tatiana, pictured below, is a service dog who goes everywhere with her special needs owner and assists her with daily living tasks - Tatiana even walked through the college graduation line with her owner.

Therapy Dogs

Job:  To bring joy

Where: Institutions such as hospitals, elder care facilities or schools

Who:  People other than their owners  

When:  On a volunteer basis

Education:  AKC Canine Good Citizen and certification with a therapy dog organization

Temperament:  Socially oriented, must be calm and likes to seek affection from strangers

How can I train my do to be a Therapy Dog?  There are numerous organizations that can certify your dog.  For links to websites for these organizations, please visit

http://www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/akc-therapy-dog-program

Service Dogs

Job:  Perform specific tasks that help mitigate their owner’s  disabilities

Where:  Everywhere their owner goes

Who:  Only their owner

When:  24/7 full-time job 

Education: Extensive training in tasking and public access

Temperament:  Owner-oriented, must be alert and focused on the owner

The legal definition of a “service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Exploitation of public access by presenting a pet dog as a service dog is a federal crime and unethical act.

More information: http://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

Service dogs must be trained not only in tasks for their owner, but also public access.  Assistance Dog International (ADI) is the only organization that sets out training and other general standards for service dog training organizations.  ADI sets the standard in their Public Access Test: www.assistancedogsinternational.org  

Both Buck and Tatiana are members of the AKC Canine Partners community for all dogs,including rescues and mixed-breeds. AKC registered dogs are eligible for the AKC Therapy Dog titling program. More information here.

The AKC GoodDog! Helpline is a seven-day-a-week telephone support service staffed by experienced dog trainers. More information here.