Differences Between Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, Service Dogs, and Working Dogs


Canines have, over the course of centuries, evolved from being primarily work-oriented creatures to beings that offer companionship, support, and therapy. Dogs are not only humanity’s loyal companions but also vital aids for various therapeutic and work-related needs. 

Each of these roles—Therapy Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, Service Dogs, and Working Dogs—serves a specific purpose and has unique attributes. 

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are specially trained canines that provide comfort, affection, and joy to people in numerous settings. These include hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and disaster relief areas. Unlike other specialised dogs, therapy dogs do not usually assist one particular person; instead, they are trained to bring happiness to various people during their visits.

Therapists and medical professionals often use therapy dogs as part of treatment plans. The dog’s presence can alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, or sadness, providing a warm and non-judgmental companion during trying times. However, it’s crucial to understand that therapy dogs do not have the rights of service dogs. They are not permitted in all public areas unless given specific permission.

Emotional Support Dogs

While they sound similar to therapy dogs, emotional support dogs play a different role. An emotional support dog offers therapeutic benefits to its owner through companionship. These dogs are typically prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to individuals with emotional or psychological conditions, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The primary function of an emotional support dog is to provide emotional stability and unconditional love. Unlike therapy dogs that undergo specialised training, emotional support dogs don’t require specific training, as their mere presence is the therapeutic component. Owners of emotional support dogs may enjoy certain housing and travel benefits under local laws. However, these dogs do not have the same extensive public access rights as service dogs.

Service Dogs

Service dogs are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. These disabilities can range from physical impairments, such as blindness or mobility issues, to conditions like epilepsy or diabetes. The key feature of a service dog is its specific training to help mitigate the effects of the handler’s disability.

For example, a guide dog aids a visually impaired person in navigating obstacles, while a diabetic alert dog can detect changes in blood sugar levels. Because of their essential roles, service dogs are typically granted extensive rights that allow them to accompany their handler in most public places, ensuring that individuals with disabilities have the necessary support at all times. If you are looking for service dogs, you might want to consider getting them from owners with verified breeder id numbers for your safety. 

Working Dogs

The term “working dogs” is broad, encompassing canines trained for specific jobs that aren’t necessarily related to individual disabilities or therapeutic needs. This category includes search and rescue dogs, police dogs, herding dogs, hunting dogs, and more.

A search and rescue dog, for instance, undergoes intensive training to locate missing individuals, often working in challenging terrains like mountains or forests. Police dogs, on the other hand, assist law enforcement in various tasks, including detecting narcotics, pursuing suspects, or crowd control.

Working dogs, due to their specific roles, may or may not be granted public access. Their access rights are often determined by their function and the regulations of a particular region or establishment.

Typical Dog Breeds Associated with Specialised Roles

The right breed can often enhance a dog’s natural predisposition to a particular role. While personality and individual training remain paramount, breed-specific characteristics—like size, temperament, and physical attributes—can determine suitability for certain specialised roles.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs must exude a gentle temperament and patience. These dogs interact with a myriad of individuals and thus must be versatile, friendly, and calm. Common breeds associated with therapy roles include:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Golden Retriever
  • Beagle
  • Poodle (and its various sizes)
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Bichon Frise

Emotional Support Dogs

For emotional support, the primary consideration is the bond between the owner and the dog rather than specific tasks or duties. While any breed can effectively serve as an emotional support dog, some breeds that are often chosen for their companionship and comforting nature include:

  • Chihuahua
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Maltese
  • Pug
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Shih Tzu

Service Dogs

Due to the diverse needs service dogs cater to—from physical assistance to alerting to medical issues—the breed considerations can vary extensively based on the specific task. Some commonly associated breeds are:

  • Labrador Retriever (for various roles including guide and assistance work)
  • German Shepherd (mobility assistance, guide work)
  • Boxer
  • Poodle (especially for hypoallergenic needs)
  • Border Collie (especially for seizure alert)
  • Dalmatian (historically associated with fire departments)

Working Dogs

Given the vast array of jobs encompassed within the realm of working dogs, the associated breeds are extensive. However, here are a few breeds often linked with specific working roles:

  • German Shepherd (police, protection, and search & rescue)
  • Belgian Malinois (police and military roles)
  • Bloodhound (tracking and search & rescue)
  • Border Collie (herding)
  • Rottweiler (protection and herding)
  • Siberian Husky (sled-pulling)

It’s vital to understand that individual temperament, health, and training are significant factors. A dog from any breed, when matched and trained correctly, can exceed expectations in its designated role.


The multifaceted roles of dogs in our society underscore the deep bond and interdependence between humans and canines. Whether they’re providing therapeutic support, assisting individuals with disabilities, or fulfilling crucial jobs, dogs enrich our lives in countless ways. Recognizing the differences between the many jobs that these specialised dogs fill allows us to appreciate each dog’s unique role and ensures that they are treated and used appropriately in various settings.

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