Is an Emotional Support Dog the Same as a Service Dog?

When you are disabled, whether it is a physical or mental disability, there comes a time when you ask yourself if a service dog or emotional support dog will be important to your self care plan.

Whether other people suggest it, you see it on the internet, or you meet a service dog handler in person. No matter how you come across it; before you go to your doctor and ask to add an emotional support dog or service dog to your self care plan, you need to get familiar with the differences between them so you can make the best choice for your individual needs.

Today we're going to open up about emotional support dogs and how they are different from psychiatric service dogs.

As a certified dog trainer and experienced psychiatric service dog handler; I have worked with, consulted, trained and handled emotional support dogs and psychiatric service dogs. And you won't believe the differences!

This post will discuss:

  • What is an emotional support animal?
  • What does an emotional support dog do?
  • The rights of service dogs vs emotional support animals.
  • What qualifies your dog as a service dog vs an emotional support dog.
  • Why an emotional support dog may not be what's right for your disability.
  • And all the little tidbits you need to know about Emotional Support Animals (aka ESA's).
Difference Between A Psychiatric Service Dog And An Emotional Support Dog

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While this blog contains advice for PTSD & Anxiety, I am not a Licensed Mental Health Professional (*Doctor or Therapist*). Always consult with your mental health care team when adding in our tips to your self care & mental health plan.

While I am a certified force free dog trainer, I am NOT certified to train service dogs for others. Only documented disabled handlers are eligible for a service dog. Do not buy a letter from a service and put a vest on your dog. It is a Federal Crime to impersonate a service dog.

This blog features snippets from the ADA about service dogs. All our service dog legal information comes from the ADA website. I am not a lawyer, nor am I associated with the ADA. This blog's information about service dogs is for the United States only as laws vary from states & countries.

See more in our affiliate disclaimer & general disclaimer.


Before we dive into this post, I want to advise you, I am NOT a lawyer nor do I represent the ADA. The following article is my experience talking with ADA lawyers, other dog handlers, my training experiences, and my years of service dog knowledge over the past 20 years.

To get the most accurate info, please contact a local ADA or disability lawyer to be 100% sure you are covered by the law, as service dog and emotional support dog laws vary from state to state, and country to country. You can also contact the ADA for help regarding questions about emotional support animals and service dogs.

What is an Emotional Support Dog?

According to the ADA National Network, an emotional support dog is defined as:

What does an Emotional Support Dog Do?

An Emotional Support Animal provides emotional support to a single individual, much like a service dog. However, unlike a service dog, an ESA is not trained to alert, prevent, or manage a disability.

An emotional support dog provides comfort solely to their handler without being trained to do so.

This dog may:

  • Be a friend to a lonely handler.
  • Ease a fear of being alone at home, or sleeping alone.
  • Helping a child learn to read by sitting calmly beside them.
  • Give the handler a distraction of a goofy cute pet.
  • Help the handler make friends with other dog owners.
Ada Quote For Emotional Support Animals
See the ADA site for more info.

An ESA does not:

  • Alert an owner to an upcoming Emotional Response
  • Help the owner by performing trained actions
  • Get help for the owner during an emotional response
  • Prevent an emotional response by performing an action

The key difference between a Psychiatric Service Dog and a Emotional Support Animal is a psychiatric service dog has specialized training to help the handler with their disability while an emotional support animal has no training.

Unlike a psychiatric service dog, any animal can be an emotional service animal. You can have a cat, dog, horse, or other DOMESTICATED animal.

Any Domesticated Animal Can Be An Emotional Assistance Animal, But Does Not Have Public Access Rights.

Following the Law with Your Emotional Support Dog

I want to briefly talk about what laws were discussing today.

The following tips are for United States ADA Federal Laws applying to emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs.

For information on your local state laws or laws from other countries, you need to talk to a local lawyer that specializes in disability. They are your best resource for learning exceptions to Federal Laws including Housing, Breed Bans, Public Access Challenges, and more.

All our information has been gathered from the ADA, FFA, The Fair Housing Act, other government resources, and our talks with our own lawyer.

Get a consult with a local attorney to be safe before adding a service dog or emotional support dog to your mental health plan.

Can I Have My Emotional Support Dog In No Pet Policy Housing?

An ESA is protected by the Fair Housing Act , therefore, they cannot be discriminated against.

You do not have to pay pet fees for an emotional support animal.

You may be asked to provide your ESA letter from your doctor to apply for the waiver for housing and apartment rentals.

Because an emotional support animal is NOT protected under ADA standards, housing is allowed to ask for documentation.

Emotional Support Dog Or Psychiatric Service Dog1

RELATED POST: What 2 Questions about Service Dogs Can a Business Ask?

Can I Take My Emotional Support Dog In Public?

According to the ADA, only task trained service dogs may be taken into public places where there is a no dog policy in place.

Meaning Emotional Support Dogs are not allowed in businesses not marked for pets.

This includes colleges, restaurants, hospitals, shopping, doctor offices, your work, and other public places.

Your own employer may make an exception to your emotional support animal if you sit down and have a talk with them.

Local businesses are NOT required to allow your emotional support dog as they are not protected under ADA law.

Only service dogs have public access rights in the United States. Why? Because the ADA requires your dog to undertake specialized training for public access work.

An emotional support dog can only go into dog friendly places.

Service dogs train to work in the stresses and challenges of public work. Emotional Assistance Animals do not. Everyday work for a service dog is too stressful for an untrained ESA.

Can your emotional support dog train to become a psychiatric service dog?

Yes! If your dog shows the aptitude for service dog work, your dog can become a service dog with the training, time, and dedication.

And that is exactly what I did with my last psychiatric service dog Zeak.

He was an emotional support dog who helped me cope at home for 3 years prior to our evaluation and training to become a psychiatric service dog. After he completed his service dog training, he started working in public like other task trained service dogs.

My Dog Zeak- A Golden German Shepherd Corgi Mix During His Time As An Emotional Support Dog- What Is An Emotional Support Dog?

Can I Take My Emotional Support Dog in Airline Cabins?

Again, this is a no.

Only service dogs are protected under the FFA guidelines.

If you choose to travel with your emotional support dog or service dog, you are required to provide proper documentation.

The ADA does NOT apply to air space, only FFA guidelines do. So they are well within their right to ask for service dog documentation and other records stating the dog is healthy to travel.

Emotional Assistance Dogs Are Not Allowed In Airline Cabins According To Ffa Guidelines

Am I Required to Follow Breed Ban Laws?

Service dogs are protected from breed bans, but emotional support dogs are not immune to the ban.

Why? The extensive training a service dog goes through ensures that the dog is a friend to the public and will behave as such. Any breed of dog can be a service dog if they meet temperament standards and uphold the service dog standard while also completing their training.

Emotional support animals do not require training so they do not qualify for the same protection as service dogs. These dogs simply have not been trained for public access.

Local laws may require a Canine Good Citizen test to have an emotional support dog that is a banned breed.

Chart Of Differences Between Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, And Emotional Support Dogs- What Is An Emotional Support Dog?

Emotional Support Dogs- What We Learned

In short, emotional support dogs do not have the same rights as psychiatric service dogs.

  • They are wonderful companions that can help you regulate your emotional state at home, but they do not have public access rights because they are not held up the same public safety and training standards as service dogs.
  • Emotional Support Dogs are not covered by the ADA or FFA. But are covered by the Fair Housing Act.
  • ESA's do not require specialized training.
  • ESA's are support for only one person. Unlike therapy dogs who serve the public and not the handler.
  • Only service dogs bypass breed bans.
  • Your ESA can become a qualified service dog with training.
  • Your employer may make an exception for an emotional assistance dog.
  • Business are not required to allow your ESA.
Ask me your questions about emotional support dogs in the comments! Or tell me how an emotional support dog has helped you!
What Is An Emotional Support Dog Pinterest Pin 1

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Krystian Howe
Krystian Howehttps://withloveandfluffs.com
Hi! I'm Krystian. The Creator of With Love, Me. I created this blog for others like myself: people living with anxiety disorder on a daily basis. I have been living with anxiety since my teens. This blog is to give you a how to guide for living with anxiety, because I sure didn't have one. I want to save you the pain and misery I had of figuring it out all on my own. Join me and my service dog Koda on the journey to help you manage your anxiety. See you on the blog and our socials!
Krystian Howe
Hi! I'm Krystian. The Creator of With Love, Me. I created this blog for others like myself: people living with anxiety disorder on a daily basis. I have been living with anxiety since my teens. This blog is to give you a how to guide for living with anxiety, because I sure didn't have one. I want to save you the pain and misery I had of figuring it out all on my own. Join me and my service dog Koda on the journey to help you manage your anxiety. See you on the blog and our socials!
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  1. Really great read. Who knew there were so many laws on esa and service dogs. But it’s good since it deters people from claiming normal pets as ESA

  2. This is an incredible resource for those needing more information on Emotional Support Animals. You do an amazing job at answering so many questions. Thank you for providing such a fabulous guide!

    • They’re wonderful and important helpers. I used to have one myself until my needs changed. It’s important to know about them! You’re welcome to save and share that graphic! It’s on pinterest!

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