Is there anything more comforting than the reassuring touch of a dog? Scientists have discovered that interacting with animals boosts levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin in our brains, and can even improve our immune system. These findings prove that dogs bring comfort to the people they interact with, but what exactly is a comfort dog? The term is typically used to describe a type of dog known as a “crisis response” dog. Crisis response dogs are different from therapy dogs and Emotional Support Animals, but the distinctions can get confusing, so we’ve broken it down below.
Crisis Response Dogs
Crisis response dogs are trained to handle stressful, crowded situations so that they can help people remain calm in disasters. Not all therapy dogs have the temperament to be crisis response dogs.
These dogs assist people struggling with the aftermath of natural disasters, like hurricanes, fires, floods, epidemics, and tornadoes. Teams of certified crisis response dogs and their handlers also aid individuals affected by man-made disasters. You may have seen footage of canines greeting students returning to campus after a school shooting, or heard about crisis response dogs helping communities recover from acts of terrorism.
Several agencies provide certified crisis response teams to community and government organizations. When a crisis occurs, these agencies reach out to their teams to see who is nearby and available to help.
Therapy dogs are privately owned canines. These dogs and their owners volunteer in places like schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. Therapy dogs are not considered service animals. They do not have the same rights as specially trained service dogs like guide dogs, but they do bring joy and comfort to the people they visit. If you think your canine companion has what it takes to be a therapy dog, check out the AKC’s therapy dog title program.
Emotional Support Animals
Emotional Support Animals (ESA) do not have the same rights as service dogs and do not need specialized training to handle a task. They provide emotional support through their presence. These dogs can offer powerful aid to owners with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and phobias. Check with your local and state laws to find out if an ESA is allowed in public places.
It is important to note that there are individuals and organizations that sell service animal certification or registration documents online. These documents do not convey any rights under the ADA and the Department of Justice does not recognize them as proof that the dog is a service animal.
Knowing the difference between a crisis response dog, therapy dog, and ESA is important. And if you own a dog with the right temperament, volunteer therapy work provides an excellent opportunity to give back to your community.
AKC’s Statement on the Misuse of Service Dogs
Service dogs are defined as those that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. The AKC strongly supports public accommodations that allow individuals with disabilities to use service dogs.
The AKC strongly condemns characterizing dogs as service animals when they are not, or attempting to benefit from a dog’s service dog status when the individual using the dog is not a person with a disability.