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

This blog contains links to affiliate websites such as Amazon, Etsy and other third parties. As an affiliate of Amazon, Etsy and other parties; I may receive a small commission from your purchase at NO cost to you. We only promote products that we enjoy. Your purchase helps us keep creating more content to help you improve your mental health.

This blog includes advice for Ptsd, anxiety, self care and service dogs. I am not a doctor, therapist, or licensed mental health professional. Please always contact your mental health care team to consult with them on your best route of care before adding in any tips from our blog. We care about your mental health and want you to thrive!

While I do train my own personal service dogs, I am not certified to train service dogs for others, at least not yet! Please contact a local certified service dog trainer to request a consult on training your service dog. A legal service dog is more than a piece of paper. It requires years of training, education, time, and work with the health care system. Buying a letter and putting a vest on your dog and claiming it to be a service dog is a crime and is punishable by federal law. Do so at your own risk.

I am NOT a lawyer nor do I represent the ADA. This blog features 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.

See more in our affiliate disclaimer and our 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:

“an emotional support animal is any animal that provides emotional support alleviating one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s disability. Emotional support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. Emotional support animals are not limited to dogs”.


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.
  • 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

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.

Related Post: 8 Pros of a Psychiatric Service Dog for Anxiety Management

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

Following the Law with Your Emotional Support Dog or Service 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, 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 service dog 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. Local state laws may vary.

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.

This is why service dog handlers get so upset when a dog other than a service dog is allowed into public spaces. Untrained dogs put trained service dogs at risk, which also put a handler’s health and wellness at risk.

So please, if you have not trained for public access, leave your pup at home.

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?

RELATED POST: 10 Cons of a Psychiatric Service Dog That Cause High Anxiety

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

Do I Need to Register or Certify My Emotional Support Animal?

What is a Service Dog Registry?

When I talk about registries, I do not mean filing paperwork with your government for a pet license. That you 100% have to do! You can read more about it below.

The registries I am talking about you see every time you pull up a service dog search. The list of dogs and handlers with names, pictures, and a registration numbers. Some even give you a little kit or card for your dog, don’t fall for this.

They tend to say “Register your service dog for $39.99”, “Take your dog everywhere, here’s how”, “Get a doctor to sign your ESA letter and become a service dog today”.

Those registries, in the USA, are a money making scheme. They are a scam, and they do NOT make your dog a qualified service dog.

Service Dog Registry
Is an Emotional Support Dog the Same as a Service Dog? 19

You are breaking ADA federal law if you enroll in this service for access to public spaces, but skip the training.

A qualifying service dog is made through training, not paperwork.

In other countries that are not the United States, you may be required to register your service dog. Again, you need to consult a local attorney.

But in America, The ADA does NOT require registration or certification of any working dog that negates a disability, including service dogs and emotional support dogs.

All registries are voluntary.

You cannot be forced to register your dog to gain access to services in the United States. No matter if the dog is a service dog or emotional assistance animal.

While you cannot be forced to register, certify, or have id for your service dog; your should always have your emergency info on your dog in case of an emergency.

Is An Emotional Service Dog A Service Dog United States Service Dog Registry Dog Ada Guidelines

What is certification?

Certification is the completion of an accredited training program from a qualified trainer.

The ADA does not require this as it can be expensive and impedes care of lower income families in the United States.

Ada Service Animal Guidelines Faqs
Is an Emotional Support Dog the Same as a Service Dog? 20

So why do you hear so many dogs being certified if the ADA doesn’t require it?

  • 1- Many service dogs actually come from certified training programs that specialize in this training. You can also become part of a certified trainers private training sessions and still have a standardized certification process for your dog.
  • 2- Therapy dogs are required to complete a certified program before working with the public. That is why the public perception of service dogs is they should be certified.
  • 3- Certification used to be required, but regulations have changed. Public perception hasn’t quite caught up yet.

An emotional support dog does not go through a training program, therefore, you do not have to certify the dog.

Is An Emotional Service Dog A Service Dog United States Service Dog Certification Dog Ada Guidelines

Am I Required to Follow Breed Ban Laws?

Service dogs are protected from breed bans, but emotional support dogs are not.

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 tested for public access.

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

Is An Emotional Service Dog A Service Dog United States Banned Breed Ada Guidelines1

Do Emotional Support Dogs Need to Follow Leash and License Laws?

Why do I need a local pet license?

ALL dogs and their handlers need to follow federal and state dog laws. Even service dogs.

While Federal laws do not require you to take part in a dog registry that gives your working dog an id number; you are required to adhere to local, state, and federal laws.

Why? Getting a pet license ensures that your dog is up to date on all vaccines, making it safe for your dog to be around other animals and people.

Your government is ensuring that these animals are certified healthy. Which is why service dogs are allowed public access.

Any dogs that are in public without a current pet license are in violation of the law.

All working dogs including ESA, Therapy, Service Dogs, and even dogs that work with government are required to have yearly vet checks and vaccinations and is required a license.

City Requirements For Service Dogs And Emotional Support Animals According To Ada Website
Is an Emotional Support Dog the Same as a Service Dog? 21

Why are leash laws important?

Lease laws are another important part of keeping the public healthy and safe.

While the ADA does not require a service dog to be on leash, local laws may still require it.

Example: In Washington DC, all dogs are required to be leashed. Even service dogs. Why? The population is very congested here, thefts occur, and being an urban jungle it helps maintain a clean public space.

Its for the safety of the working dog teams and the public.

Check your local government and with a local attorney for information about your city.

Is An Emotional Service Dog A Service Dog United States Local Dog Laws

Do I Need Special Gear For My Emotional Support Dog?

The ADA states they do not require gear for working dogs, including emotional support animals.

Identifying Your Service Dog Or Emotional Assistance Dog With Gear Or Vest- Ada Guidelines
Is an Emotional Support Dog the Same as a Service Dog? 22

So why do many handler teams use it?

  • Public Access is easier. Businesses are more willing to allow a service dog in gear.
  • Some local laws require any working dog to be marked. Washington DC is one of those cities.
  • All therapy dogs are required to be marked as such so the public knows they can interact with the dog.
  • Service dogs have adopted this practice so the public knows they are not available for the public to interact with.
  • It is a fun and expressive part of owning a working dog and benefits the handler.
  • The team experiences less challenges and stress overall.
My Psychiatric Dog, Koda, Wearing A Service Dog Vest To Alert The Public He Is Working And Needs To Focus.

RELATED PAGE: Where To Get a Custom Service Dog Vest + Product Review

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.
  • The only dog required to wear gear and be certified is a therapy dog.
  • Only service dogs bypass breed bans.
  • Your ESA can become a qualified service dog with training.
  • All dogs must adhere to local laws for public health and safety.
  • 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!

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What Is An Emotional Support Dog Pinterest Pin 1

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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, Author of With Love, Me

Krystian Howe

Hi Lovelies! My name is Krystian and I’ll be your self care coach. Our destination: less stress to be our best. These tested strategies will help you go from anxious lady to confident queen! Get ready to turn your anxiety into a strength.


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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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