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Everything You Need to Know About Service Dogs

Know About Service Dogs

You’ve likely heard of a service dog before—you might’ve even seen one in a restaurant you were at or at the grocery store you were shopping in at some point. 

But how much do you really know about them?

Intended for people with certain types of disabilities, service dogs are essential aids to thousands of people nationwide. But unlike other working dogs, like police or cadavers, service dogs are for people with a life-affecting disability that could benefit from this type of assistance. 

Whether you’re looking for a service dog or genuinely curious about them, this article tells you everything you might want to know about these remarkable animals, including the difference between them and emotional support animals (ESAs), their legal rights, and how service dogs are utilized.

What Is a Service Dog?

Service dogs are special animals that are trained to work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. They can help their owners with an expansive range of tasks, depending on whether they are dealing with mental, intellectual, or physical impairment. 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the purpose of service dogs is that they can “perform some of the same functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself.” In doing so, they help promote independence – by assisting their handlers in carrying out daily tasks like opening doors, crossing the street, and grocery shopping. Service dogs can also help instill confidence through emotional companionship for many people.

The Difference Between Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

There are three main differences between service dogs and ESAs: the animal’s purpose, legal rights, and essential certifications.


Service Dog Vs Emotional Support Animal Infographic

Since service dogs are taught to act as personal aids to the disabled, they are protected by law in most scenarios. ESAs, on the other hand, can be any type of pet without specialized training. However, they need a certification that proves that they provide emotional comfort to their owner(s). 

Difference #1: Function

Service dogs are trained extensively and professionally to perform a specific function or job for their owner who may have a physical, intellectual, or emotional disability. For example, a seizure response service dog will react appropriately and call for help if their owner suffers from an unexpected seizure. Because of this important purpose, service dogs are viewed as workers and not pets. 

ESAs are any type of pet that can provide comfort to someone with an emotional disability, like depression or anxiety. They are not trained to perform any kind of task to aid their owners but merely act as companions in times of emotional stress. 

Difference #2: Protection

Service dogs are protected legally under the ADA because they are necessary for their handler’s safety, well-being, and basic daily tasks. For example, because service animals are classified as an extension of the individual, a landlord cannot deny a tenant because of their service dog.

ESAs are not legally protected in the same way service dogs are. While landlords cannot charge you a pet fee or turn you away for having an ESA, they are not allowed in many public places, like restaurants, grocery stores, or hospitals. 

Difference #3: Certification 

Service dogs are trained for up to two years and require extensive paperwork to prove their certification. Service dogs need paperwork, but their certification is something that their handler must carry on them at all times. Although not required, service dogs might also wear a special vest to help differentiate them from other pets. 

ESAs can be certified by a mental health professional with a letter of recommendation. This letter can help you avoid pet fees in rentals and air travel, but many of the same legal rights for service dogs won’t apply to ESAs. 

What Are Service Dogs Used For?

There is a service dog for just about every kind of disability—but some of the most common types of service dogs are for these eight kinds of impairments. Learn more about these critical services and how they help more than half a million Americans

Type #1: Guide Dogs

Also known as seeing-eye dogs, guide dogs have been helping the blind and visually impaired for centuries. Although they only became popular in America during World War I, these service dogs are some of the most popular service types. They help their owners navigate obstacles in everyday life, like crossing the street, operating elevators, boarding and moving around busses, and more. Guide dogs must be patient, dismissive of distractions, and listen to critical verbal commands. 

Type #2: Hearing Dogs

Like guide dogs, hearing dogs help people with hearing impairments. These dogs physically alert their owners to familiar sounds like smoke alarms, doorbells, alarm clocks, or a crying baby. When the dog hears a vital sound, they’ll touch their owner and lead them to the sound. 

These dogs can also be taught to respond to American Sign Language (ASL) and people who are non-verbal. 

Type #3: Diabetic Service Dogs

Thanks to their enhanced sense of smell, dogs are sensitive to the hyperglycemic smell that is undetectable to humans. With this skill, they are further trained to become diabetic service dogs, alerting their owners when a sudden change in their blood sugar occurs before it becomes dangerous. 

Type #4: Mobility Assistance Dogs

Mobility assistance dogs can help perform tasks for individuals with mobility issues. Although they are trained to bring certain items to their owners, press buttons on automatic doors, and even pull a wheelchair up a ramp, these dogs also help give their owners a sense of independence and confidence. Mobility assistance dogs are commonly used for brain and spinal injuries, severe arthritis, amputated limbs, or the otherwise physically disabled. 

Type #5: Seizure Response Dogs

Service dogs for seizures are incredibly useful aids to people who suffer from seizures. It’s important to note that these dogs cannot predict seizures, but they can respond appropriately when their owner is suffering from one by barking or pressing an alarm to call for help. 

While help is on its way, seizure dogs can also retrieve medications, act as a brace, and provide comfort. 

Type #6: Autism Service Dogs

While the first autism support dog was placed with a child in 1997, they are a great companion for all age groups. Autism support dogs can be an excellent help in promoting their owner’s independence and ability to perform daily activities like anybody else. 

For example, children may benefit from their companionship in social settings. For adults, they help promote independence and also provide comfort in predictability during social settings.

Type #7: Allergy Detection Dogs

All dogs can smell things that we can’t, but allergy detection dogs must patiently focus on searching through hundreds of different scents to find the one he’s looking for. 

For example, an allergy detection dog might be placed with a child who has a severe peanut allergy. The child’s service dog would sniff through foods from unknown origins, like a school lunch, to be sure that it’s peanut-free. These service dogs help prevent an allergy attack and give the child’s parents a greater sense of security. Some dogs specialize as celiac disease service dogs, which is an allergy to gluten. 

Type #8: Psychiatric Service Dogs

Psychiatric service dogs can assist people who struggle with a legitimate psychiatric or mental disability. These types are prevalent service dogs for veterans. However, they can also aid people with other life experiences who also suffer from depression, PTSD, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and other types of mental illnesses.

Service Dog Reason Infographic

These dogs can assist their owners by providing comfort during a time of emotional stress. In public, they can also create physical barriers between strangers and their owners, acting as a safety blanket. Generally, service dogs for PTSD and depression are the most common types of aids.

The Difference Between Psychiatric Service Dogs and ESAs

Although ESAs provide similar emotional comfort, psychiatric service dogs have different responsibilities. Service dogs for anxiety are common, but there is a fine line when it comes to that or an ESA. For example, a service dog can learn certain behaviors to help their handlers cope with fear and anxiety. ESAs are not trained and instead may merely offer emotional comfort with their presence. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Service dogs are amazing animals that perform a variety of essential tasks. With that type of responsibility, there’s no wonder why most people are fascinated with them—so here are some frequently asked questions about service dogs. 

Question #1: Do Service Dogs Have to Wear a Vest?

Although service dogs are not required to wear vests, many owners decide to opt for one anyway. This vest helps outsiders understand and differentiate that this dog is a certified service animal that is there to aid its owner. The jacket can be an essential piece of identification, but it also tells others that the dog is working and can’t interact. 

Question #2: Why Can’t You Pet Service Dogs?

While this decision is ultimately up to the owner, it’s always safe to assume that you should never pet a service dog. Depending on the type of dog, it can actually be dangerous to interact with a working service animal. You could accidentally distract them from their owner who may need them, and then it becomes your fault if their dog is unable to help. 

Question #3: How Much Do Service Dogs Cost?

Service animals are considered living aids for thousands of people in the world, which unfortunately means that they often come with a hefty price tag. Already-trained service dogs can cost anywhere between $15 to $30 thousand (plus general care and vet checkups throughout its lifetime). 

Unfortunately, nearly 70 percent of people with disabilities can’t afford a service dog. Luckily, you can utilize several methods to help pay for a service animal if you need one, such as: 

  • Nonprofit grants and programs
  • Crowdfunding, like GoFundMe
  • Flexible spending account (FSA), which may be attached to your insurance policy if you get a letter of medical necessity (LMN)

You could also adopt an untrained dog and then sign it up for service training. For a total of two years, you can expect to pay a total of $5,200, which includes its adoption or purchase price, vet bills, training expenses, service gear, and extra necessities. 

Question #4: What Are the Best Dogs for Service Dogs?

Some of the most common breeds include: 

  • Labrador Retrievers 
  • Golden Retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • Great Danes
  • Saint Bernards
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Poodles

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Although this might sound like a subjective question, specific characteristics are required to be a service dog. Service dogs must be patient, trainable, and have the willingness to please. Some breeds are more independent and prefer to do things their way, which would disqualify them from service eligibility.

In more cases than not, Labrador retrievers are the most popular breed when it comes to service dogs—not to mention they’re also America’s favorite dog for their intelligence and level of devotion. 

Question #5: How Do You Train Service Dogs?

If you’ve ever wondered how to train service dogs, the first thing you should know is that it is much more complicated than your average obedience class. Service dogs receive complete training within one to two years, and there are two facets of training service dogs: 

  1. Public behaviors
  2. Disability-related work and tasks

These two facets help train and certify that your service dog can behave appropriately in public—such as ignoring distractions—and respond appropriately to your specific disability. Since seeing-eye dogs won’t have the same responsibilities as psychiatric service dogs, the latter type is the most specific and important part of the training. 

Question #6: What Is the Federal Law on Service Dogs?

Under the ADA, service dogs are protected in many instances where they can bypass no-pet policies to aid their owners. 

Access to Buildings

Government buildings, businesses, hotels, schools, and organizations that serve the public must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities. This means that service dogs in restaurants and grocery stores are allowed. However, there is an exception to every rule: Service dogs may not be permitted in certain areas where their presence can compromise a sterile environment, like hospital burn units. 

No-Pet Policies in Rentals

Landlords are also not allowed to reject a tenant because of their service dog. Under the Fair Housing Act, the landlord must make reasonable accommodations for disabled tenants, which means they can’t refuse to rent to someone who uses a service dog. 

Air Travel

Just like anybody else, many people with disabilities often need to travel—but getting service dogs on a plane can prove to be a challenge. Fortunately, under the Air Carrier Access Act, accommodations must be made for individuals with disabilities, including allowing their service animal to board the plane without asking the owner to pay extra fees or be crated for the duration of the flight.

Question #7: Do Service Dogs Have to be Registered?

Service dogs are not required to be registered under the ADA. However, if your city requires all dogs to be registered, you must comply with your local public health requirements. 


Service dogs are some of the most essential aids in the world, with thousands assisting people living normally and happily across the United States every day. Since they are viewed as an extension of their handler, service dogs have exclusive access to all types of buildings, ranging from hotels and hospitals to restaurants and airplanes. 

Thanks to their hard work ethic and willingness to please, Labrador Retrievers are among the most common types of service dogs. With vigorous training and high expectations, these extraordinary animals are eager to assist their companions. Here at Snowy Pines White Labs, our Puppy College is great at preparing Labradors to become some of the best service dogs available. Our Puppy Academy is a great jump start for Labradors that are going to become emotional support companions. Visit our Puppy Training page to learn more!

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About the Author


Tom Massey

Tom Massey has owned and operated Snowy Pines Labradors for over a decade. They have become the leaders in English Labradors in the US. He and his team serve customers all over the US and Europe. They house their "dog family" in a state of the art facility on a large farm in the Ozark Mountains. With an obsession for genetics and temperament they raise and train dogs known across the globe for health and personality. Tom serves the pet industry in many forms campaigning for ethical breeding, training, and pet ownership.


Calm Tempered, AKC Purebred, and Certified Genetics.