Things You Need to Know About Service & Therapy Dogs

Posted By: Sara Gingerich on Mar 19, 2012 in Thinking Dogs
Inmate Guide Dog Training

First of all a Service Dog is NOT a Therapy Dog and a Therapy Dog is NOT a Service dog.

What is a Service Animal ?

The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government. A service animal is not a pet. Read more here:

What is a Therapy Dog?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Therapy dogs are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing home. From working with a child who is learning to read to visiting a senior in assisted living, therapy dogs and their owners work together as a team to improve the lives of other people. Therapy dogs are not service dogs. Service dogs are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability. An example of a service dog is a dog who guides an owner who is blind, or a dog who assists someone who has a physical disability. Service dogs stay with their person and have special access privileges in public places such as on planes, in restaurants, etc. Therapy dogs do not have the same special access as service dogs.

It is unethical to attempt to pass off a therapy dog as a service dog for purposes such as flying on a plane or being admitted to a restaurant or to be able to move into a no-dog apartment or house. Read more here:

What breeds make good Service Dogs for physically disabled people?

The short answer is Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. Of course, there are exceptions. Dogs from the working group are easy to train but tend to be protective. Read more here:

How do I get my dog certified as an assistance dog? 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Currently there is no form of certification for Service or Therapy dogs. My recommendation would be to contact a professional dog trainer and discuss your needs and what you want to use your dog for. Do you have a disability and the dog is going to serve you as your Service Dog? Do you want to go make visitations with your dog and do Therapy work? I HIGHLY recommend you contact a professional trainer and explain the goals you would like to make for you and your dog. Contact Sara here:

What kind of training would my dog need to be a Service Dog or a Therapy Dog? My recommendation would be to take your dog through Advanced Obedience. Your dog will need to act and aid you in both public and in home. Your dog must have a high standard of learning as they will be in the public eye and are expected to act in a manner that is confident and well controlled. Below is my list recommending some of the things your dog would need to master before becoming a Service or Therapy Dog. As handler you must have clear understanding on how to work with your dog. Your dog must be responsive to you.

Your dog must be friendly to everyone; including strangers, dogs and children. Must show no aggressiveness or nervousness. Your dog must not be protective.

Recommended learning for Service Dog & Therapy Dog work

1.    Sit

2.    Stay next to handler, Respect stay

3.    Long stay

4.    Distraction stays

5.    Heel

6.    Come when called

7.    Not to eat food from ground

8.    Door safety

9.    Stay calm while examined by Vet

10.  Resistance to high level of distractions

**Your dog must be able to accomplish all of these training exercises in both public and at home, and both inside and outside.** I highly recommend doing CGC – Canine Good Citizenship testing as the first step towards getting your dog ready to aid or serve. Here are the test items:

Have questions? Contact Sara here:

Sara Gingerich

I am an avid dog lover and trainer serving other dog-loving citizens of Lewis and south Thurston County in Washington State. I specialize in In-home training and offer Basic & Advanced Obedience, Puppy Kindergarten, Service Dog Training, and also problem solving.

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