The difference between service dogs and therapy dogs

November 11, 2014
A service dog is an assistance dog that has been specially trained to help someone who has a disability. Service dogs work only with one owner/handler. They are trained for the person’s specific needs. For example, an owner/handler may have mobility limitations, hearing loss or deafness, visual impairment, or autism.

A service dog may be provided to the owner/handler at no cost. In some cases, the owner/handler may purchase the dog.

Some service dogs wear a vest, working harness or a bandana to signify that they are trained. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require them to do so. The ADA covers public access for service dogs while they are working.

Therapy dogs

A therapy dog works with numerous people in a variety of situations. Its obedience training allowsit to safely provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and other similar locations.

The dog’s role is to engage with patients, students and clients and interact with them. A therapy dog may interact by allowing people to pet it, lying on a patient’s bed, listening to children read, or doing other things to bring comfort and lower stress levels.

The owner/handler is usually the person who makes visitations with the dog. Therapy dogs do not have public access unless they are working, and they are not covered by the ADA.

How can I get a service dog?

Canine Companions for Independence (CCI)
Santa Rosa, California
800-572-BARK (2275)

This nonprofit organization enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships.

  • No charge for service dog
  • Must pay for transportation to and from CCI headquarters in Santa Rosa, Calif.
  • Room and board to stay at CCI headquartersis free of charge

Purdy Women Prison Pet Partnership Program
Gig Harbor, Washington
253-858-4240

This nonprofit organization is located at the Washington Corrections Center for Women inGig Harbor. It rescues and trains homeless animals as service dogs for people with disabilities. Its dog boarding and grooming facility provides vocational education for the prison inmates.
  • No charge for service dog ($25 application fee)
  • Apply online
Cascade Service Dogs, Sharon Majewski
Olympia, Washington
360-480-7606

This organization receives dogs from a number of sources, including shelters and rescues, breeders, and families who can no longer keep their pets, and trains them to become service dogs. It also offers classes for people wishing to certify their pet as a service animal.
  • A $4,000 charge for a service dog

Service Dog Academy, Mary McNeight
Seattle, Washington

The academy provides service dogs for people with diabetes, seizures, migraines or narcolepsy.

Summit Assistance Dogs
Anacortes, Washington
360-293-5609

This nonprofit organization trains service dogs, skilled home companion dogs, therapeutic home companion dogs, and professional therapy dogs. Founded in 2000, the program began working in 2010 with inmates at Monroe Correctional Complex, teaching them to care for and train many of the dogs.
  • No charge for a service dog, but dog recipients are asked to contribute financially and be actively involved in fundraising efforts to the extent that they can be•
  • $25 application processing fee
How can my pet become certified for service or therapy?

To be certified for service, a dog must complete at least 120 hours of training over a period of at least six months. It must also pass both of the following tests:
To learn how your dog can be certified as a service dog, please refer to this website:
This coalition of not-for-profit assistance dog organizations will help you to locate a certified service dog training program in your area. The coalition itself does not train service dogs.

If you’d like to train your dog to become a certified therapy dog, please visit these websites: