12239032053?profile=RESIZE_584xCanine Companions' service dogs are trained to help people with disabilities and differ from therapy dogs and emotional support dogs. Photo provided by Canine Companions

By Arden Moore

Given my 20-plus years in the pet industry, I am keenly aware of hot-button topics. What to feed — and what not to feed — your pet unleashes plenty of fierce opinions among pet parents.

Also triggering plenty of barky debates are canine credentials: What’s the difference between a therapy dog, an emotional support canine and a service dog?

Recently, new signs at the entrances of Publix stores across the state remind shoppers that only service dogs are permitted inside. For people with emotional support animals, that means their dogs are not allowed to ride in shopping carts or walk beside them on leashes up and down the aisles.

Even though this has been a Publix policy for a few years, the new signs out front have provoked heated comments.

So, let me carefully dive in and explain the differences among these designated dogs.

Therapy dogs
My terrier mix, Kona, is a registered therapy dog. To earn this designation, she had to complete basic dog obedience classes, ace her AKC Canine Good Citizenship test and complete a series of supervised visits to a memory care center.

Therapy dogs are canine goodwill ambassadors. They must be invited to schools, senior citizen facilities and other places to enter their premises. They are insured and must be well-mannered and tolerant of being touched by all types of people.

Two national therapy training groups are Pet Partners (petpartners.org) and Love on a Leash (www.loveonaleash.org).

Emotional support dogs
Now let’s move on to the next tier: emotional support animals. For a dog to be deemed an ESA, a person must obtain a “prescription” in the form of a letter from a mental health professional that states the dog is necessary for that person’s mental well-being. An ESA dog can be any age and any breed and does not require specific training.

According to the federal Fair Housing Act, people with these ESA prescriptions cannot be prevented from obtaining housing, even in places with no-pets-allowed policies. They cannot be charged a pet deposit. However, ESA dogs do not have any legal power to enter any business, including supermarkets.

One Boca Raton resident who asked not to be identified obtained a psychologist’s written prescription for an ESA-designated dog for her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum, to offset the stress of college life. The Lhasa apso mix lives with her in her dorm.

“This dog has really helped her at college, but she doesn’t need the dog for a trip to Publix,” added the mother.

Since December 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation revised guidelines for animals traveling inside the cabins of commercial airlines. Only service dogs with DOT-required documentation as to their training, health and certification are allowed to travel in the cabin at no charge.

Service dogs
Finally, let’s discuss service dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines service dogs as those “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”

These dogs are trained by professionals to perform specific tasks to assist people who may have physical, hearing or visual impairments, or may be medically identified as having post-traumatic stress disorder.

Service dogs are legally allowed to accompany their people into restaurants, shops, hospitals, schools and hotels. But owners of these places can ask the person to leave if the service dog is acting unruly or urinating or defecating.

ADA guidelines allow anyone — be it a person on the street or a store owner — to ask the person with a dog wearing a service dog designation only two questions:

• Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
• What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

However, under federal law, no one is allowed to ask that person the extent of his or her disability, to show proof that this dog has been trained and certified as a service dog or ask the person to have the dog perform a specific task.

A genuine service dog must undergo extensive training, sometimes for up to two years. Canine Companions, with six training centers across the country, including Florida, is one of the largest groups producing service dogs.

“Each Canine Companion puppy is specifically bred, raised by a volunteer puppy raiser, then trained by professional instructors before being matched with a child, adult or veteran with a disability completely free of charge,” says Courtney Craig, Canine Companions spokesperson.

Beware false credentials
OK, now come blurred lines. I spent about five minutes online and located several sites proclaiming anyone can obtain a service dog vest, harness and ID card quickly without the dog undergoing any training.

And that’s the problem. There are genuine service dogs and fake ones. There continue to be incidents in which an untrained dog wearing an online service dog vest has attacked a legitimately trained service dog. In some cases, that service dog becomes “dog apprehensive” and is removed from service. The person partnered with that dog is now without a dog and loses safe opportunities to be out in public.

“When poorly trained dogs misbehave, businesses are more likely to deny access to service dogs,” says Wallis Brozman, communications and advocacy coordinator for Canine

Companions' Southeast center in Fort Lauderdale. “This decreases inclusion and independence for people with disabilities.”

A 2022 study by Canine Companions involving more than 1,500 service dog users found that:

• 93% reported encountering a poorly trained dog in places where pets are not permitted.
• 79% reported that a dog barked at, snapped at, lunged at and even bit their service dog.
• 80% of people with service dogs report that these fake, untrained service dogs have negatively affected their quality of life and independence.

Dee Hoult, a longtime professional dog trainer who operates Applause Your Paws in South Florida, says, “I can spot a fake service dog three aisles away. Legitimate service dogs also signal when they must go and will not defecate or urinate in the aisle or pull on their leashes.”

In 31 states, including Florida, it is against the law to pass off a fake service dog as a real one. It is considered a second-degree misdemeanor and, if convicted, a violator may face a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

Yes, dogs are gaining more invitations these days to join their people, but for everyone’s safety, please know and respect the access opportunities among therapy, ESA and service dogs.

Arden Moore is an author, speaker and master certified pet first-aid instructor. She hosts a radio show, Arden Moore’s Four Legged Life (www.fourleggedlife.com), and the weekly Oh Behave! podcast on PetLifeRadio.com. Learn more by visiting www.ardenmoore.com.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of The Coastal Star to add comments!

Join The Coastal Star

Activity Feed

The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 7
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in ACROSS THE BRIDGE
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in BRINY BREEZES
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in OCEAN RIDGE
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in HIGHLAND BEACH
May 1
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a blog post
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion
May 1
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in MANALAPAN
May 1
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 1
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in SOUTH PALM BEACH
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion
May 1
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 1
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in BRINY BREEZES
May 1
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 1
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
May 1
More…