Service dogs, working dogs, therapy dogs, emotional support dogs: nowadays it seems like there are dogs with jobs just about everywhere. But what are the differences between these working “paw-fessionals?” Can you bring your pet on a plane with you? Can apartments keep you from renting with an emotional support animal? Let’s do a deep dive into these dogs—and other animals—with jobs.

Service Animals

We can consider service animals the top-tier when we think of associated legislative protections. Service animals are specifically trained to aid their handler in the performance of work and tasks.

In the United States, service animals are specifically protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They actively
work to assist individuals with their disability and are allowed public access under the ADA. Likewise in Canada, service animals are protected under the Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations (ATPDR). This means they are permitted in public spaces, housing, public transport, etc. and are exempt from airline pet fees.

Service animals can be trained to complete a variety of tasks. Although the most well-known example is the guide dog, there are also medical alert dogs, hearing dogs, psychiatric dogs, and dogs who assist the mobility impaired.

Therapy Animals

Therapy animals are distinct from service and working animals. Therapy animals are pets who are temperamentally suited for sensitive
environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, hospices, and mental health institutions. In tandem with their human handler, these animals provide comfort to individuals in these environments and are known for their friendliness and patience. Although dogs are likely the most common therapy animals, other companion animals and even horses have been utilized.

Unlike service animals, therapy animals are not protected under the ADA or ATPDR and thus are not given the same public access.
Instead, they are given special permission to enter sensitive environments and typically carry their own insurance.

Working Animals

Working animals are purpose trained. Instead of assisting individuals with disabilities, working animals use their natural skills in conjunction with human handlers to perform tasks. Commonly known working animals include police dogs and military working
dogs. Some other examples of work that these animals can partake in include:

• Search and rescue
• Explosives detection
• Drug detection

They are not protected under the ADA or ATPDR.

Emotional Support Animals

Like therapy animals, emotional support animals are not protected under the ADA or ATPDR. Emotional support animals are companion animals that serve the purpose of providing support to their owners. They are not trained to perform tasks, nor do they require any formalized training. Instead, they are prescribed by medical professionals to individuals with mental health disorders or other needs.

In the United States, these animals do not need to be accommodated by airlines but are protected under the Fair Housing Act.
In Canada, these animals have the right to travel with their owners for free but do not share the public access privileges of service animals.

Why does this matter?

It is important to understand the distinctions between these animals and to fully grasp the legal protections provided to each subset. As veterinary professionals, it is important to be able to understand the importance and associated training to better educate our clientele. All these dogs with jobs are important and are allowed various rights under the law.


Chu, S. (2021, April 15). Service dog certification and regulations in Canada. Offcial ESA Registration – ESA & Service Animal Registry. Retrieved April 25, 2022,
Hawthorn, A. (2020, February 23). Sorting out the confusion of service dogs – and the rights they hold | CBC news. CBCnews. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://
Reisen, J. (2021, August 27). Service, working,therapy, emotional support dogs: Which is which? American Kennel Club. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://www.