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What's the difference between a service dog, therapy dog and emotional support dog?

They all wear vests, but serve in different ways.

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — After a young woman and her service dog were asked to leave the skating rink, 11Alive received a lot of questions about what a service dog is and the difference is between a service dog, a therapy dog and an emotional support dog.

RELATED: Family kicked out of Sandy Springs skating rink for bringing service dog

They all wear vests but serve in different ways. 11Alive's Kaitlyn Ross talked to a certified trainer about it for our digital series, K9Kait.


These animals have full access to anywhere the public can go like movie theaters and shopping centers. 

Service animals are typically trained to mitigate disability and usually perform tasks - like retrieving objects or alerting when they sense a medical emergency - that help someone that has an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) certified disability. They also have to be non-disruptive in public.


These animals typically go into hospitals or nursing homes to provide comfort to people. They may be certified with an organization and also usually work with their owners. 

In order to get certified, these animals will typically take specific testing to make sure they're safe and can go into nursing homes or work with children and be safe. 

Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are not granted full access to public places. They are only allowed where the facility allows.


These types of animals are only providing comfort and are not performing specific tasks nor do they require specific training.

Most importantly, emotional support animals are not granted public access. They may be permitted on some airlines or other transportation services but they are not granted the same access as service animals. 

These types of support animals have come under scrutiny recently - and have forced some airlines to enforce some restrictions - because of the wide range and various species owners are using as comfort animals. 

"It kind of ruins it for the people who literally need these animals for potentially life-saving purposes," said certified trainer Alex Sessa. 

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