October is National Service Dog Month

What is the difference between a service dog, therapy dog, and an emotional support dog?

There is some confusion, I think between these three types of trained dogs. With October being National Service Dog Month, I thought it would be a good time to clear up the confusion so we can celebrate the lives of all three for what they do for their humans each and every day! These selfless dogs deserve our respect and appreciation. Many people who are disabled depend on them every single day just to live their lives.

Service dogs are individually trained to perform certain tasks for their owner (or handler) that is disabled in one way or another, either physically or mentally. They may help a person who is hearing and/or visually impaired to navigate their surroundings. They may calm a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They may warn a person that suffers from seizures that they are about to have one and even assist them during a seizure. Some can even dial 911 in case of an emergency.

What is a Service Dog?

A service dog is registered and protected under federal law. By law service dogs are allowed in public places that do not ordinarily allow dogs. These include restaurants, hotels, housing and air travel. The service dog does not have to be professionally trained. They do however have to be trained to be a working dog and not a pet.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a specific definition of a disability. Basically, it is an individual that is physically or mentally impaired and is substantially limited in major life activities.

Service dogs will have identification cards, other written documentation, the presence of a harness, tags, etc. that identify that the dog is indeed a service dog.

It has been reported that 43 million Americans with disabilities have service dogs. There are approximately 387,000 service dogs and 10,000 guide dogs in the US.

What is an emotional support dog?

An emotional support dog is a dog that belongs to a person with a disability and that person’s doctor has determined and written a prescription stating that the dog is necessary for the person’s home despite any “no pets” policy. These dogs are pets and the only protection their owner has is to be able to have them in their home regardless of the home owner’s pet policy and to fly with them in a cabin when pets are not permitted.

What is a Therapy Dog?

A therapy dog is a pet that has been trained to accompany their owner into facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes to comfort and cheer up the patients. These dogs are trained, tested, registered, and insured. A well-behaved pet can typically complete training in about 8 weeks. The therapy dog is a pet and is not permitted in any other public place where dogs are not allowed. The reason for the registration is to assure the facilities’ owner or manager that this dog is well-behaved and safe to be around people and that they are insured against liability.

Can a Chihuahua Be a Service Dog?

Any breed of dog can be a service dog. Whether a dog can be a service dog or not depends on whether they are trained to perform a certain task or tasks to assist a person in need of some kind of help. These tasks can include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.

chihuahua asleep on persons lap, can a chihuahua be a service dog?A Chihuahua can also be an emotional support dog and a therapy dog. Chihuahuas make excellent emotional support and therapy dog. They are small and adapt well to apartment living and they are already professional lap warmers.


  • Service dogs work to help the owner perform tasks that they cannot perform on their own because of a disability, either physical or psychiatric.
  • An emotional support animal works to improve the health of his owner who is disabled.
  • The therapy animal works with his owner to improve the health of others.

In one way or another these dogs (or other types of animal in some cases) help their owner or handler each and every day in one way or another. I for one am very grateful to these amazing dogs. Let’s all give three cheers for the service, emotional support and the therapy dogs around the world!