Service Dogs vs. Therapy Dogs: Understanding Their Roles


  • Understanding the Difference: Clarifying the roles and legal distinctions between service dogs and therapy dogs.
  • Temperament and Breed: Examining the importance of a dog’s temperament and the breeds that are typically well-suited for service and therapy roles.
  • Training Requirements: Detailing the specific training needed for dogs to become certified service or therapy animals.

When we talk about service and therapy dogs, it’s crucial to distinguish between the two. Service dogs are specially trained to perform tasks that assist individuals with disabilities. These tasks can range from guiding the blind to detecting seizures or aiding wheelchair-bound handlers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recognizes the importance of these dogs, granting them legal access to all public spaces, a privilege that highlights their integral role in the lives of their owners.

In contrast, therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and emotional support in various settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. Their role is to offer a soothing presence to individuals during stressful or difficult times. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs do not have an automatic right to public access, though they may be granted special permission in some establishments depending on the policies in place.

Is Your Dog Suitable for Service or Therapy Work?

A key factor in determining whether your dog can be a therapy or service dog is their temperament. These dogs need to exhibit specific characteristics to thrive in their roles. Traits like a calm and friendly demeanor, confidence under pressure, adaptability to new environments, and a strong work ethic are essential. If your dog demonstrates these qualities, they could potentially be trained for service or therapy work.

Which Breeds Excel as Service or Therapy Dogs?

While service and therapy dogs can belong to any breed, certain breeds are more predisposed to excel in these roles. Breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Poodle Mixes are often preferred due to their intelligence, trainability, and natural work ethic. However, it’s important to remember that a dog’s individual personality and temperament play a more crucial role than breed alone in determining their suitability for service or therapy work.

Training Your Dog to be a Service or Therapy Animal

If your dog has the right temperament and drive, professional training is the next crucial step. Service dogs undergo rigorous training to develop skills specific to their owner’s disability. This training includes learning public access skills to ensure they can accompany their owners in various environments without causing disruptions.

For therapy dogs, the training focuses on obedience, fostering a strong bond between the handler and the dog, and preparing them to provide comfort and support in different situations. Many organizations offer certification programs for therapy dogs, which involve a comprehensive process of training, evaluation, and registration.


While any dog can potentially be trained as a service or therapy dog, success in these roles depends on the individual dog’s temperament, the training they receive, and in some cases, their breed. Understanding these differences and requirements is key for anyone considering training their dog for these important and life-changing roles.