Difference between service dogs and support dogs

Service dogs and emotional support dogs are not the same thing. In fact, a lot of confusion about the two kinds of animals persists.

Elena Berger says her golden retriever Garrison is a life saver. The mother of two has a neuromuscular disease. She got the service dog about six years ago. They've been inseparable ever since. The dog can open doors for her, press buttons, and help in other ways.

Garrison is not just any dog. He is a professional dog. Before even meeting Berger, he went through two years of extensive training. Then he met Berger and went through two weeks of training to learn everything there is to know about her. He now even knows to pick up the phone and bring it to her if she falls and needs to call for help.

The 9-year-old pooch knows more than 80 commands. Garrison's extensive training earns him the right to go anywhere in the general public, guaranteed by federal and state law.

Those rules differ when it comes to therapy and emotional support dogs, but most people don't know the difference.

Berger notes that emotional support animals don't have to be trained to do anything specific. She says the gray area has become an increasing problem. She points out that a service dog is not a pet that you simply want to bring to a store or a restaurant.

Patricia Robert of Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) explains that while there is no doubt the bond between a dog and their human is important, allowing emotional support dogs the same access as service dogs can be dangerous. She says emotional support dogs love their person, but they are not trained to do any physical tasks.

Berger says that if someone really needs an emotional support dog that could help with a disability then that person should get that dog properly trained and then certified as a service dog.