Emotional Support Dog, Service Dog and Therapy Dog…What Are The Differences?

It is important to understand the difference between Therapy Dogs, Service Dogs and Emotional Support Dogs. therapy dog pit bull



A Therapy Dog is trained to provide comfort and affection to people (other than the owner). These people can be in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, mental facilities, incarcerated, stressful situations (like Hurricane Katrina), etc.


Therapy dogs do not provide direct assistance to their owners, nor do they have legal rights to access public areas or travel everywhere. Additionally, the American Disabilities Act does not apply to Therapy Dogs.


The job of a Therapy Dog is to make physical contact with people, allowing them to feel comforted by the physical experience.


Several of our clients have Therapy Dogs and the use of these dogs is endless. These dogs visit Senior Homes, Hospice Facilities and Schools. Our client’s Therapy Dogs are used in counseling, psychiatry sessions and work with children with Autism, Dyslexia and Anxiety.



A Service Dog and Emotional Support Dog are therapeutic to its disabled owner. Because they are specifically trained to directly help their handler, Service/Emotional Support Dogs have the legal right to go everywhere and live in housing even when pets ARE NOT allowed or specific breeds are not allowed.


According to the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act protect the right of people with disabilities to keep emotional support animals, even when a landlord’s policy explicitly prohibits pets. Because emotional support and service animals are not “pets,” but rather are considered to be more like assistive aids such as wheelchairs, the law will generally require the landlord to make an exception to its “no pet” policy so that a tenant with a disability can fully use and enjoy his or her dwelling. In most housing complexes, so long as the tenant has a letter or prescription from an appropriate professional, such as a therapist or physician, and meets the definition of a person with a disability, he or she is entitled to a reasonable accommodation that would allow an emotional support animal in the apartment.*

*Information found on http://www.servicedogtags.com/emotional_support_animals.htm

Additionally, a landlord CAN NOT ask about your physical or emotional disability as they must treat all perspective tenants the same! So, if asked, you DO NOT need to disclose your need for a Service or Emotional Support Dog.

The ADA or American Disabilities Act protects people with all types of disabilities and does not limit the type of disability where a service dog can be used. If you have a condition which makes it difficult to perform, or limits your function in life activities (where other people don’t have difficulty), you may qualify. You DO NOT need to have a doctor’s excuse or formal diagnosis and you may train your own service animal.


To get the actual definitions for ADA Qualified Disabilities visit http://www.nsarco.com/listofdisabilities.html#defs , contact your state Attorney General’s Office or visit www.ADA.gov.


Many people think that a “disability” only applies to people that are physically disabled, but this isn’t the case as many disabilities can’t be seen. For example, one of our clients has Epilepsy and his Pit Bull warns him when a seizure is about to occur. Several of our clients have mild depression or feel emotionally overwhelmed and these feelings are alleviated by their Emotional Support Dogs.


Below is a partial list of both Physical Problems and Emotional/Mental Problems that are qualified disabilities that may entitle you to need a Service Dog or Emotional Support Dog**.


Physical Problem
Asthma (or other breathing problems)
Blindness (& partial blindness)
Deafness (& partial deafness)
Dizziness/Balance problems
General Hearing Difficulty
Mobility Problems
Neurological Problems
Physical Weakness
Speech Problems
Emotional/Mental Problem
Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Any Psychiatric Condition (check website for exclusion)
Bipolar Disorder
Emotionally Overwhelmed
Panic Attacks
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Separation Anxiety
Social Phobia
Stress Problems

**List found on http://www.nsarco.com/listofdisabilities.html




If you are looking for service identification tags, service collars, service dog harnesses, service capes, service vests, mobility harnesses, seeing-eye dog harnesses, collar bags, gripper lines and much more, check out http://bluecollarworkingdog.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=49&Itemid=164 . Blue Collar Working Dog is located at 1533 Echo Park Ave. in Los Angeles 90026, but you can call them at 213-977-9042 and place an order over the phone. This store is AWESOME especially if you have a Pit Bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Akita, Mastiff, American Bull Dog or any other large breed.


Einhorn Insurance also found NSAR, National Service Animal Registry http://www.nsarco.com/index.html . This is a website where you can register your dog as a Service Animal and Emotional Support Animal. NSAR allows you to purchase a Service Animal Registration Kit where you’ll get Identification Cards, a certificate, a Service Animal patch, and they officially register your dog on the NSAR database as a Service Animal. This is ideal if you are looking for a place to rent with a no pet or limited pet policy and a landlord needs to confirm your dog truly is a service animal.


Einhorn Insurance hopes you found this information helpful and please remember, violators of the ADA can be required to pay money damages and face penalties.


For more questions, contact Einhorn Insurance at 858-336-4644, visit www.EinhornInsurance.com or email us at Agent@EinhornInsurance.com. We specialize in dog liability insurance and can help you get insurance to cover all dog breeds including Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Akitas, German Shepherds, Chows, Staffordshire Terriers…etc.


We also provide liability insurance for Therapy Dogs when coverage is required by a school, hospital or public/private entity.

34 Responses to Emotional Support Dog, Service Dog and Therapy Dog…What Are The Differences?

  1. S February 2, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    My understanding in order to have your dog as an ESA you have to have a letter from your Dr. Some websites say any Dr and others say it has to be from a therapist. Do you know of any Dr’s in the San Diego area that are willing to do this? I ask because I knew some Dr’s don’t like to write referrals or think things are “in your head” so knowing who supports this would be very helpful. Thank you!

    • Dori Einhorn February 2, 2013 at 11:20 am #

      For the website I refer people to to make your dog and ESA, you don’t need a doctor’s note.

    • Meg March 10, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      In my experience, your regular doctor or therapist can easily write the letter for you. I have had 3 separate doctors write letters of recommendation for my husband and I to both have ESA’s. They often aren’t familiar with the terms and the laws involved, but some explanation goes a long way. I have taken in printed information from law sites pertaining to ESA’s and what purpose they serve, etc. They even have sample letters, but I have found that is largely unnecessary.

      The last two docs I simply explained that I had been prescribed one in the past and felt it was beneficial to my mental illness and why it was…. they usually have no problems writing it out once they know what it is and how it can really help a person. A good doctor wants to help their patients and if you can help them understand how much this could help you, they should be more than willing to accommodate you. If they are not, then I would think it’s time to look for a new doctor in my opinion. My husband and I’s current ESA “letters” are wrote out on a prescription pad basically, so are small and not really letters. More like a small doc note saying their patient will benefit from the use of an emotional support animal and to call them with any questions.

      Hope that helps someone out there… Good luck!

  2. Jeri-Marie February 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    All the websites I’ve been to said you need a doctor’s note “prescribing” you the dog..
    So what you’re saying is I can make my existing dog on that registry and order a vest and tada?

    I do suffer from anxiety, depression, and panic attacks and definitely emotionally overwhelmed and my dog definitely helps me.. This would be great!

    (i am in the state of NY)

    • Dori Einhorn February 11, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      The last time I talked to the nice folks at NSAR, no doctor’s note was necessary.
      I suggest contacting them to confirm http://www.nsarco.com/index.html.
      Please let us know what they say and I hope this helps you!!!

      • Meg March 10, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

        Hmmm… interesting. I have never heard that a note is note required, but would be nice if true.

        I think the main reason to have the doc note is to make it seem more legit and to make things easier when renting. It also make it easier when staying at hotels. Most do not ask to see the note, cheaper motels that already allow pets. However, at a nicer hotel where pets are not allowed, I would have the note available with you in case there is any question.

        From what I have read on different law websites is that you are allowed by law to have the animal accompany you into your private hotel room. It is similar to the rules of having it in your home, and yes, it is covered by FHA, not ADA. I have stayed at several motels/hotels without a problem. We usually stay at ones which allow pets anyways, but always mention we have an emotional support dog staying with us and have not had any problems. We don;t usually stay in the Hilton either lol so not sure how that would go.

        The doctor’s note is definitely worth the effort of getting, because it makes life a lot easier and people are less likely to question if you really need it.

      • Meg March 10, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

        My current landlord is great about it! They just ask us to bring the letter in so they can make a copy for the file. We then had to write down on our lease what sort of animal it was, for identification purposes. The head manager even schooled the office worker talking to who us who tried to say it can’t be over 40 lbs… He said, nope, not for ESA’s, no restrictions and pet rent/fees! It’s nice to finally have found an apartment community that is so understanding.

        We are currently in the process of getting our second ESA, since my husband already has one and I would like my own. The office has given us the green light and the doc our second letter, just need the dog lol!

  3. yolanda March 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    I live in apartment that has an restricted breed policy I did not know this when I first moved in. My dog is a pit bull very nice and has some training. I recently received notice about pet policy violation and was told that I must get rid of her. My daughter is the owner but I was taking care of her. She can not keep her. I’m retired and have medical issues that she is there for me comforts me with. Is it to late for me to make her an ESA dog so she can stay with me I will be very sad to give her to an animal shelter or to be destroyed?

    • Dori Einhorn March 17, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      I’m sorry, I’m not an attorney and can’t answer that question. I suggest you contact the service dog website we provide and see if they can answer that question for you.

  4. Shay April 2, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    My husband was given a written letter stating his doctor was prescribing him an emotional support animal. She stated he qualified under the federal laws, gave the laws etc. We did not want to disclose my husband’s disability, rather his doctor stating he qualifies under the disability she is treating him for. Our property management is now giving us a hard time stating we need to include what the support animal will be for. Is my husband not entitled to his privacy and must disclose his disability despite his doctor stating he qualifies and has signed and stamped the letter prescribing one?

    • Dori Einhorn April 2, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      It is my understanding that it’s against the law for a landlord to ask about your disability, but I’m not an attorney and don’t know for certain. I was once told about a tenant that had a landlord ask about their disability and the tenant sued the landlord for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I would contact the links found in the paragraph below and see if they can provide you with any additional info.

      ADA Qualified Disabilities http://www.nsarco.com/listofdisabilities.html#defs or contact your state Attorney General’s Office or visit http://www.ADA.gov.

    • Emily January 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

      Hi Shay,

      I have an autistic son and his therapist has agreed to write a letter for him to have an emotional support dog. Can you tell me what the letter states that was written by your husbands doctor?

      Thank you in advance!

    • Housing Equality Law Project (HELP) March 5, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

      Dear Shay,

      If you reside in California and your housing issue remains unresolved, please contact us at 415-797-HELP (4357) or via email help@housingequality.org.

      If you live outside California, please contact HUD to file an administrative complaint by visiting their website: http://www.hud.gov

      Good luck!

      • Jenai Herod March 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

        I have PTSD anxiety and panick attcks . I have documentation of my illness and am on ssi for my condition I have a support dog who is registered as a service dog in training I raised him from a pup . he was unable to complete his service dog training due to restrictions placed on me by my abusive relationship . years later I was faced with people entering my home when I wasnt there and my dog was so friendly he offered me no protection just emotional support . I got another dog for my protection and last year was forced to leave my abuser who tried to kill me . I had a broken leg and managed o escape with one dog only and could not go back to get junior my service dog in training . I was assisted with relocation cost thru california victim witness assistance program who put me in a dog friendly unit in another county where I live now . I was very upset about leaving my support dog behind and made very effort at getting him back fearful that he too would be abused in my absence or that my abuser would not provide him needed vet care for his severe allergy and painful ear infections that I have reciepts for thousands in vet bills insurance etc. later I began getting emails and messages from friends of my abuser stating my dog was in serios condition and to find a way to get hi before he died of his illness. My abuser refussed to return him and I was beside myself . even posted a causes petition to animal control in the county I fled from to please check on my poor by they refused , I filed polic reoprts and could get no help . I then learned my abuser wa dying of cancer and had followed me to my town where he and a friend of his made every effort to get me to come for my dog at a nearby lake when in fact he did not habe my dog at ll I told my landlord of the issue and asked permission to bring my dog here if I could get to him and he agreed . Instead of going to the lake to get the dog drove 3 hours to his home and found my poor dog lying in his dog house near death from serious infection and was able to get him off the property and drove straight to my local vet 3 hours from where we were . we have lived in my unit without incident and my dogs are both doing fine. only now I have nbeen told I need knee surgery and the landlord says I cant keep two dogs . I have been a good tenent and my dogs are not a problem but the second one is very protective . my question is can my landlord evict me for having two srvice animls one for cemotonal support and one for protection if I have insurance they do not cause damage . and she even protected me while I was protecting the landlords property from 15 teenagers who were vandalizing the complex , if I had not had annie there with me they threatened to take my phone away and “Kick my ass” until getting close enough to pose a threat and annie stopped them cold in there tracks . I do not feel safe without her and i do not think I can bear th thought of losing either one since they both are needed for my well being and protection . I have an attorney who is representing me but I was curious about 2 dog under the circumstances . I didnt expect things to end up this way and appreciate advice since the eviction is based on a claim that I had violated my lease for telling kids not to ride skateboards by my unit because it gets my protection dog on alert and she thinks Im in danger . shes just doing her job and no other mention of this issue has ever been brought up till now . court is being set for trial next week. I am also a section 8 tenent and was not served proper notice or cited for a specific reason to evict .

    • Payton December 28, 2017 at 3:47 pm #

      ADA explicitly states it is a violation to inquire as to the nature of your disability. You may have a civil suit on your hands.

  5. katrina brown April 15, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Ok so i just moved into an apartment where the landlord does not except pets at all not even a bird. And my boyfriends mom told me about a website where i can get my pit bull registered as my service dog and i didn’t know til a few days of living there. So we got the paper work and registered him and i tried to get whole of the landlord to ask if i could have him there, but no answer so i brought him there anyway, well she found out and told me he has to go, and i told her and offered to shoe her his registration and she still said no.

  6. Cassy Benitez February 10, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

    Hello, I have an emotional support dog and I live in an apartment. But my land lord is trying to make me pay 500$ to keep him. If I have proof of my depression and anxiety and proof of my dog is an emotional support dog would I still have to pay the 500$?

    • Dori Einhorn February 10, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

      I’m sorry, i don’t know the answer to that. You may have to ask an attorney, http://www.ada.gov or http://www.nsarco.com.

    • Housing Equality Law Project (HELP) March 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

      Hello Cassy,

      You landlord is prohibited from charging you additional deposit or rent because you have an emotional support animal. Make sure you have documentation from your medical provider verifying that you are “disabled under fair housing laws and require the assistance of a service/companion dog”.

      If you have any questions or need additional information please contact HELP at 415-797-HELP(4357) email: help@housingequality.org

      Good luck!

  7. Rebecca February 20, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    We are currently looking at a few apartments to move into.

    We have a support dog for my son who is Autistic & the problem we are facing is that majority of the apartments that are affordable or in a safe area do not allow dogs. The building I live in now is pet friendly and never had an issue. But because we need a larger space, we are forced to move. How do I prepare a potential landlord that we have a support dog without any complications?

    • Dori Einhorn February 20, 2014 at 8:40 am #

      I’m sorry, I’m not an attorney and can’t advise you. I suggest you contact these people http://www.servicedogtags.com/emotional_support_animals.htm or http://www.nsarco.com/index.html.

    • Housing Equality Law Project (HELP) March 5, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

      Dear Rebecca,

      You should obtain a letter from your son’s medical provider which states that he is disabled (not the nature of his disability) and that he requires the assistance of a service/companion dog to aid with his disability related condition. Once you have the doctor’s letter start searching for your ideal apartment, including those that stipulate “no pets”. During the application process include a letter to the housing provider requesting they allow your son’s service/companion animal as a reasonable accommodation to his disability.

      Contact HELP for more information or for sample letters to the housing provider, etc. You can reach us at 415-797-HELP(4357) or via email help@housingequality.org

      Good luck with your housing search.

  8. Sarah Winder February 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    hello, I have a note from my Dr. stating that I need a companion animal, I gave the note to my landlord over a month ago, would you know if there is a time frame on when they would be required to give me an answer? Or where I would be able to find that information?

    (I live in PA)


  9. Jazelle See March 5, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    How do I register my dog to be a service dog. My husband has PTSD and is required to have a dog to feel safe when we go places. I was wondering if someone can tell me what the process is as to registering the dog. I’ve tried to look around and some sites tell me that it’s a long process to have your dog registered and some sites just have me pay for a small price. I’m a bit skeptical about paying a fee not knowing if the website is just a scam. Would anyone please recommend a website to me that is not a scam I would really appreciate it.

    Thank you,

  10. Lindsey March 10, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    I got a doctor’s note from my counselor I have been waiting 3wks for “paperwork” and was wondering is there a time limit? I have have had three to for panic attacks a day what can I do?

  11. Oskar January 23, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

    Our landlord allows pets but will raise the rent and security deposit. If I were to have an emotional support/service pet could he still legally raise my rent and/or security deposit?

    • Dori Einhorn January 24, 2015 at 12:18 pm #

      I’m sorry, I’m not an attorney and I don’t know the tenant laws specific to your state/county. I suggest you contact your local city’s renter’s rights association and ask them.

  12. Michael Winterman January 16, 2018 at 3:48 pm #

    As a landlord, we learned the hard way that tenants with animals–for whatever dopey reason they conjure–end up trashing the place. Pet pee and poop, animal dander and drool. Scratched doors, ruined walls. We have to replace drywall, window sills, window coverings, carpets and pads (sometimes the subfloor). It is VERY expensive.So, after spending million (usually more) to buy and fix up an apartment building, why do we have to subsidize pet owners? And why is it, these cry-baby pet owners don’t feel obligated to pay for damages? Why? Because it depresses them. Geez Louise.

    Same goes wit Marijuana smoking on premises. No! The oils from the smoke gets into everything. No smoking means no smoking. I don’t care if your back, neck, or head hurts. Don’t stink up my place!

    By the way, when I was a renter, no one cried buckets over PTSD and depression and god knows what and demanded they have a pet at the landlord’s expense. Also, the only pets in pet-friendly buildings were dogs under 30 pounds. Cats were a no-no. They pee and spray, even if neutered.

    What’s next? The landlord pays the food and vet bill.

    By the way, if you can’t avoid the vet, you can’t afford a pet.

    Grow up, people!


  1. Can an Emotional Support Dog Be Any Size? - Apartments, houses, lease, tenant, landlord, agreements, termination - City-Data Forum - January 10, 2014

    […] At about a year old, the dog should be pretty well the size it's going to get, BUT dogs normally attain their full height by a year, and then fill out in years 2-3, depending on breed. So it could certainly surpass the 25 pound weight limit. That said, having a slightly over weight limit dog should not be a problem for your friend, as that would seem to be a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. If the dog's 30 pounds at adult weight, that's not something the landlord can point to as a reason to deny a service animal (emotional or not). As far as breed restrictions, I was reading a bit on an insurance website.The seemed to indicate that a reasonable accommodation for a restricted breed would be for the landlord to require supplemental liability insurance provided by the tenant for that particular dog. Here is the site I read from: Renting with an Emotional Support Dog, Service Dog or Therapy Dog | Einhorn Insurance […]

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