Support vs. Service Dog


This post was provided to Pet Guardian Angels of America by Noah Rue

Photo by Pixabay

Why a Support Dog May Be Right For You

There is a reason why they’re called man’s (and woman’s!) best friend. They love without limit. They are an endless source of comfort and affection. They accept you for who you are. No judgment. No conditions.

Anyone who has known the love of a dog and has been claimed by an angel in a fur suit knows there’s nothing else quite like it. But how do you know if you need more than the affection of a new four-legged friend? How do you know when it is time to invest in a support animal?

What Is a Support Animal?

No question about it, all animals are support animals in their own way. Support animals, also known as emotional support animals (ESAs), are prescribed by medical professionals to improve their pet parent’s quality of life, principally by providing comfort and companionship to people with disabilities or mental illnesses, especially anxiety disorders, chronic depression, or PTSD.

Is a Support Animal the Same Thing as a Service Animal?

In a nutshell, no. Service animals are trained from their first weeks of life to provide special services to their human companions. Service dogs, with their intelligence and loyal nature, and superhuman senses (literally) can do anything from alerting diabetic owners to fluctuations in glucose levels to guiding the blind and visually impaired. These working dogs are legally allowed anywhere their handler is allowed.

Support dogs, however, are there simply to provide emotional support. In this way, they differ from service dogs, which are highly trained from the age of 8 weeks and beyond to be public access trained and assist those with physical disabilities by learning and performing specific tasks. Unlike service animals, support animals are not required to have specialized training to become a support animal. To be certified as a support animal, a doctor or mental health professional must diagnose you and determine that an ESA would help manage your condition. While they do have protections when it comes to housing access, meaning they can’t be denied when renting at a no-pet property and you can’t be charged a pet fee, they do not have the same public access that service dogs do, due to the differences in training.

How Can a Service or Support Dog Help You?

There are many circumstances that someone might find themselves in that could warrant a service or support dog. Physical disabilities such as mobility issues or blindness, as well as invisible conditions such as diabetes and epilepsy, could highly benefit from the assistance of a service dog. Service dogs can offer independence and freedom to those whose might otherwise need assistance due to their disability, and those who live with life-threatening chronic illness can find comfort and freedom in knowing they will be warned and prepared when their symptoms strike.

For those living with mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, having the unending affection and companionship of an emotional support dog can literally mean the difference between being able to live a functioning life and being bed-bound due to crippling depression or anxiety. Having another soul to love and depend on you even through your darkest days may, indeed, be the life-saving difference.

It’s easy to want a service or support dog; they’re wonderful and adorable, and the media is great at showing all of the wonderful aspects of them. But you have to remember they are living beings, and you need to be able to take care of their needs in addition to them taking care of you. If you are ready for the commitment of having a support or service dog, the next step is looking into how to get one.

The Logistics of Getting a Support or Service Dog

Acquiring a support dog is not always an easy task, and acquiring a service dog may be even more challenging. Because of the rigorous training involved in service dogs, they are not always simple to find and the costs can be prohibitive.

In addition, welcoming a service dog into your family involves far more than just placing an order on the kind of dog you want, paying the money, and stocking up on doggie treats while you await your new companion. There is, in essence, a courtship involved. Trainers will want to ensure that you and your new service dog are a good match, that the animal you select will be able to meet your specific needs – and that you will be able to meet its! While there is a misconception that service dogs are trained and then good to go, this is not the case. Ultimately, dogs are animals and not robots, and they need continued training and consistency to ensure they can continue to do their job.

Likewise, finding the right support dog can be just as significant a challenge, because, as loving as dogs may be by nature, it’s not always a simple task to find the animal with just the personality to meet your needs. Research into various breeds can help you determine which breeds tend to have the temperament you need. The wrong breed and temperament for your needs may result in your ESA causing you more stress than it comforts.

Remember, as well, that you and your support or service dog enjoy special protections in many states. In most circumstances, prohibitions against animals in public places do not apply to service animals, although the legal restrictions on support dogs tend to be more stringent. Most support dogs are not permitted in public locations, even with certification, whereas service dogs typically are, under the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act.. It is always important to be aware of your legal rights in regard to your support animal, both when you are at home and when you travel.

The Importance of Pet Insurance

If you are considering getting a support or a service dog, it’s wise to think of your new family member not just as a new friend, but as an investment. The rarity of these highly-trained companions and the costs associated with acquiring one mean that you’re probably not going to be in the market to add to your support canine family very often.

Like all pets, your pet is precious. Irreplaceable. You want to ensure that you and your company enjoy as many happy and healthy years together as possible. For example, you may want to consider purchasing pet insurance. Some canine breeds, for example, are especially vulnerable to conditions like heart disease or kidney failure. Insuring your support animal while he or she is still young can help you detect and treat even the most costly illnesses early, before they can become a true threat to your pet’s life and well-being.

The Takeaway

Owning a pet – whether a support dog, a service dog, or a rescue you picked up from the shelter to change your life – is associated with enormous health benefits, from decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol to boosting mood. But if you are a pet parent to a support or service dog, you know that the gifts your furry family member brings into your life are beyond words, incapable of being read on a doctor’s chart. Bringing a dog into your life isn’t easy, but in a million different ways, it is beyond worthwhile.

Noah Yarnol Rue is always looking where his next trip will take him . When he’s not traveling the world, he’s writing articles on the new things he learns. Noah also enjoys a good meme from time to time. You can find Noah on LinkedIn.