Both emotional support animals (ESA) and professionally trained service dogs are incredibly important for thousands of Americans. They are able to provide feelings of comfort and security, as well as be a grounding tool during periods of high stress and anxiety. Although both can provide similar emotional comforts, these two forms of assistance animals are quite different from one another.
Unfortunately, emotional support dogs are limited in where they can accompany their handlers, and often do not need to meet specific training requirements that you would observe in a registered service animal. Although emotional support and service dogs can both be prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist, there are notable differences between them that should be considered when deciding which will make an ideal (companion based on the need presented in the recipient.
Emotional support animals are incredibly useful in helping their handlers cope with daily challenges and stressors, while also providing comfort and support. An additional positive attribute of this form of animal assisted care is the efficiency of acquisition due to no specific training being necessary. For those that struggle with depression, anxiety, and other cognitive and emotional challenges, emotional support animals can be life changing.
In terms of legality, there is a much more notable difference present that needs to be considered. The American Disabilities Act of 1990 defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Service dogs are classified as “working dogs.” Under the ADA, State and local governments, business, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is allowed to go. Emotional support animals are not granted the same liberties or permissions as a working service dog. Emotional support dogs provide comfort to their person just by their presence. Providing comfort is not a trained behavior, therefore, the dog is not considered an assistance (service) dog under the ADA. Emotional support dogs do not have the intensive and specialized training that a service dog receives.The broad public access rights for assistance animals under the ADA only extend to service dogs that are individually and specifically trained to perform tasks to benefit an individual with a disability.
Professionally trained service dogs service conditions that are more challenging to treat, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is highly recommended that canine companions come equipped with training that enables them to intervene and assist in the management of some of these more complex symptoms. This training begins early for these dogs, and is lifelong. Specifically, when a person living with PTSD struggles with the more notable symptoms of the condition, such as flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and hyper vigilance. Professionally trained service dogs trained to respond to PTSD are able to alert on the chemical changes that take place during these responses.
Northwest Battle Buddies’ professionally trained service dogs stand out due to their extensive and specific standard of training they adhere to. They receive approximately 360 hours of training, ranging from a dog’s ability to sense changes in its owners’ chemical composition, such as adrenaline during a panic attack or helping its owner to simply exit the house to take a walk outside. These dogs are capable of providing momentary intervention by facilitating change-of-state practices, i.e. vocation, forms of physical contact such as licking or laying their heads in the handlers laps (pressure therapy), nudging them, action that offers grounding distraction. This helps shift the Veteran from a reactive and maladaptive state that can be harmful to our American Heroes trying to heal.
In addition to the hundreds of hours of training, Veterans teamed with a Northwest Battle Buddies service dog are able to then train one-on-one for an additional 135 hours where together they can develop the skills to navigate life together with freedom and independence. With the combined 495 hours of intensive, individualized training, these dogs are equipped with the skills to help change the lives of thousands of Veterans.