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Difference between Emotional Support, PTSD, Therapy and Service Dogs

Publish Date: May 8th, 2020; Author: Darren M. Jorgenson.

Types of Assistance animals
You have probably heard each of these terms by now, but did you know that each term signifies a different kind of dog with a different kind of training and is meant for a different kind of work?

That’s right. A therapy dog does a completely different kind of work than a service dog and they both have a different kind of training than an emotional support dog has.

Let’s look a bit closer into this.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs don’t necessarily need much-specialized training apart from their basic commands. These dogs are meant to give social support in times of stress for their owners, specifically in the home or while traveling on a flight. These dogs must remain calm with a gentle demeanor at all times in order to handle the stress of every day living or, worse yet, while flying. But as long as this pooch can do that then she/he is a winner. As long as they can do that, they are capable of doing their job.

emotional support Animal

Emotional Support dogs need to be able to handle a lot of stress at any one time. Maybe not so much at home (depending on the home life of the owner), but definitely while flying. First of all, there are all those other passengers trying to board, just like you are. But also there is a lot of stress during the flight.

If an Emotional Support dog is used to having a lot of room, room to stretch their legs, room to get up and move around, and room to generally just live.

On a flight, there is no room! There is no room for the Service Animal to stretch their legs. There is no room to get up and move around. And there is no room to generally just live. Instead, Fido-the-Emotional-Support-Dog will have to just deal with that lack of room. But remember yourself how difficult this lack of room can be… The very last time you were on a flight didn’t you, yourself, have difficulty finding room to stretch out your legs? To find room to just move around?

Now imagine you and two other passengers AND your Emotional Support dog all trying to cramp yourself all into the tiny three seats provided for you all.
Because the airline doesn’t provide an extra seat just because you’ve brought along your Emotional Support pooch with you.

That is just the tip of the iceberg of the types of stresses that your Emotional Support dog will encounter that the other types of dogs are unlikely to have to come to terms with.

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PTSD dogs are supremely suited to dealing with the effects of PTSD and its particular way of manifesting. For example, they have been trained that when their owners have a flashback to nuzzle their head into their owner’s hands or lap and to try to distract their owner from whatever is occurring in their mind. This is an incredible task they must perform, because PTSD flashbacks are sometimes terrifying, always draining and mostly brought on, when the owner is least expecting it. For example, an owner might watch a television scene without knowing that an upcoming scene will contain graphic material that will send them careening into a flashback. They have no time to prepare. They have no sense it is coming. And their response is automatic, unable to be controlled by themselves.

The dog, on the other hand, is highly tuned to their master and at the very onset of the flashback the dog will leap into action, trying their best to distract their owner. A PTSD dog is just another type of Service dog, which we will look at next.

Service Dogs

A Service Dog is a dog which has been extensively trained — usually up to two years — to work with a disabled human, helping them to do tasks they might otherwise not be able to perform on their own.

There are numerous types of Service Dogs, one of which we have already met — the PTSD Dog. There are also Mobility Dogs (they help people with mobility problems like standing, getting up from a chair, and walking), Hearing Dogs (which alert a deaf person to sounds they cannot hear like a horn blowing, the telephone ringing or when someone is at the door), Seeing Eye Dogs (yes, they are a specialized type of Service Dog) and many more.

Service Dogs need a lot more training than other types of helping dogs. Since they are permitted into any type of public access space whether it be a park, a theater, or a restaurant, they must behave impeccably in all situations.

service dog

For example, they must not beg at neighboring tables for scraps of food in a restaurant. How would you feel if the dog accompanying the party of four beside you spent the whole time you were eating your meal begging for your filet Mignon? Or even your messy hamburger?
Would you enjoy that dinner? I know I wouldn’t. For that reason and many more Service Dogs must be impeccably trained.

Most Service Dogs are trained by outside organizations. It is very difficult for an individual with no training background (or no intensive background in dog training) to train their own puppy into being an exemplary Service Dog. It takes great skill and fortitude and passion to train a dog so completely. Most laymen don’t have the necessary skills to do this.

Therapy Dogs

A Therapy Dog is a different kettle of fish altogether. Therapy Dogs are animals with particularly calm and appealing temperament who is brought into doctors’ offices, schools for the disabled, and other such places in order to calm, please and emotionally support the patients who are being attended to in that facility.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy Dogs have no specialized training excepting their basic commands such as sit, stay, rollover, and other such commands. They do not need to learn how to handle moments of stress apart from daily living. Their job is not a particularly stressful job, but they must not be aggressive in any way.

In Conclusion

All four of these types of dogs (three, really, because the PTSD dog is just another type of Service dog) need training, though the amount and kind really depend upon the job the dog is intended for as well as the emotional nature of the dog itself. But they each do a distinctly different type of work for a different type of person.

The key important factor to know, however, is that they each perform a job that is vital to the way we work and the way we live.

About Post Author

Darren M. Jorgensen has a fondness for all animals, though dogs especially, have a huge home in his heart. He enjoys quilting, making handcrafted soap and bodyworks and anything that produces practical products. Jorgensen lives with his own service dog who doubles as an Emotional Support Animal. He gets it.


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