Downeast Dog News

Assistance Dog Versus Service Dog

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | Oct 01, 2017

Q. I have an emotional assistance dog. When I went into a restaurant the other day, I was asked to leave my dog outside! I left and ate somewhere else. Were they wrong?

A. There is a lot of confusion involving dogs and where they can and can’t go. A lot has to do with what the dog’s purpose is. I hope to clear up some of the confusion.

There are different designations related to their jobs as defined by different organizations involving our companions.

Service dog (or miniature horse), as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, is: “Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

Assistance animal, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is: “An animal that works, provides assistance, or reforms tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.”

Emotional Support Animal, as described by the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act, is: “An emotional support animal may be an animal of any species, the use of which is supported by a qualified physician, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional on the basis of a disability-related need. Emotional support animals may be permitted as reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities under the FHA. The Air Carrier Access Act provides specific allowances for emotional support animals traveling on airlines, though documentation may need to be provided.

Therapy animals, as defined by AVMA policy “Animal-Assisted Interventions: Definitions,”is: A therapy animal that participates in animal-assisted therapy or an “intervention in which an animal meeting specific criteria is an integral part of the treatment process…. Animal assisted therapy is provided in a variety of settings, and may be group or individual in nature.”

Service dogs are allowed to go anywhere the general public is allowed with a few exceptions. For example, the service dog is allowed into a restaurant but not allowed in the kitchen. The business can ask if the dog is a service animal and what tasks he has been trained to perform. If these questions are not adequately answered, the dog can be denied entry, but not the person. Remember: it is the handler who has the rights, not the dog. There are other possible exclusions. For clarification, contact the U.S. Department of Justice's ADA Information Line at 800 - 514 - 0301 (voice) or 800 - 514 - 0383 (TTY)

Assistance animals are animals that work, assist and/or perform tasks and services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that improves the symptoms of a disability. Assistance animals do not have to be trained while service animals are categorized as animals trained to do a specific task for their owners. The emotional and/or physical benefits from the animal living in the home are what qualify the animal as an assistance animal. A letter from a medical doctor or therapist is all that is needed to classify the animal as an assistance animal. These animals are allowed in housing, but not in restaurants and other places service dogs, who are trained for service, are allowed to go. For more information, see

Emotional support animals fall under the same rules as the Assistance animals. These rules allow the emotional support or assistance animal to be allowed to live where regular pets are not. They also have access to fly in the cabin with their owners. See above for more information and limitations.

Therapy dogs, defined as above, are not allowed to go into restaurants, housing, and other areas restricted from dogs unless invited for an event or purpose. There are different organizations that certify these dogs. These dogs are trained and tested based on the organization which certifies them. Information for therapy dog certification can be found at your local shelter or trainer.

It is important to understand the exceptions and limitations in each designation. Except for therapy dogs, these animals are not pets but tools to live normal lives. Currently, it is easy to get false documentation for your pet. These false documentations, especially in ill trained and ill behaved pets, are being widely discussed in legislative bodies around the country. New rules which could be more restrictive are on the horizon.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine