You’ve probably spotted a few service or therapy dogs out and about with their handlers. They are typically quiet and well-mannered, wearing a vest that identifies their job. Or maybe you observed a dog wearing a service dog harness that didn’t appear quiet and well-mannered. Why is that?

There is a lot of confusion around the topic of service and therapy dogs. There are copious amounts of conflicting, controversial professional opinions that often leave the lay person overwhelmed when diving into this subject. Dog Training Camp USA fields dozens of questions a month about service and therapy dogs, and we’ve trained our fair share of them. We have trained dogs in a variety of tasks such as seizure alert, low/high blood sugar detection, deep pressure therapy, blocking, and much more.

We have seen firsthand how the application of service and therapy dogs can greatly improve the lives of those who need them most. If you’re interested in obtaining one of these dogs, read on! There is a lot to learn before making the final decision.

Service VS Therapy – There is a BIG difference!

We must first define the difference between the two jobs. The terms over time have become somewhat interchangeable, but it’s important to know the difference.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as any dog that performs a task that is “directly related to a person’s disability”. These dogs are protected by law and are required access to any public or private establishment. They are likened to a medical device. Businesses are required to allow service dogs to accompany their handlers, just like they are required to provide appropriate ramps for wheelchairs, or Braille on restroom signs.

There are very specific rules around what questions a handler can be asked about their service dog. Furthermore, according to the ADA, there is no certification of training or special badge required for a dog to be considered a service dog.

Read that last part again. It is very important. There are dozens of privately owned companies that offer service dog “registrations” or “certifications” that, for a fee, will send you very official-looking patches, ID cards, or tags to put on your dog. While these identifications come in handy and help the general public easily identify your dog, they are not required by law. While certifications, badges, or registrations are not required for service dogs, being trained in a medical task is.

Therapy dogs, on the other hand, serve a completely different purpose. Therapy dogs are dogs that accompany a handler to help people other than their handler, usually to boost morale or provide comfort. You will find therapy dogs in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

Therapy dogs, like service dogs, must be well-behaved and always under control of their handler in order to do their jobs. There are many organizations that offer therapy dog training. Privately owned businesses can also choose which of these organizations they collaborate with, or they don’t have to collaborate with any of them at all! Many businesses, schools, or hospitals will usually have their own policies on therapy dogs and what is expected of their behavior and training.

If you are interested in working a therapy dog, the first thing question we typically ask is “where would you like to take your therapy dog?” From there we encourage the handler to reach out to their desired location and find out what the policies and procedures are for therapy dogs there.

The Service Dog Controversy

 Learning that there is no training certification or official registration required to have a service dog is usually surprising to inquiring minds.

It’s true. You can go on Amazon right now, buy a harness and patches and put them on your dog and take him out in public. Does this make your dog a service dog? No. Unless your dog is task-trained to help mitigate your disability, your dog is simply playing dress-up.

This may sound harsh, but the misrepresentation of service dogs has been a big headache for our clients over the years. We are constantly having to educate the public on the topic because people put their badly behaved dogs in vests and attempt access into businesses that aren’t pet friendly or travel with their animals for free. This leaves business owners, employers, and housing managers frustrated because, if they know the law, they know they are not allowed to refuse access to a service dog.

This puts legitimate service dogs and their handlers under unnecessary scrutiny and contributes to the overall stress of their daily life with a disability. Imagine every time you walk into a business with your service dog, you get harassed and asked invasive questions about your dog and disability because some jerk walked into the same business yesterday with a dog who was pulling on the leash and barking at everything while wearing a service dog harness. It would piss you off.

Impostor service animals also distract legitimate service dogs from doing their jobs, which can mean life or death for their handler.

If you are a business owner or handler, you do have some recourse. Business owners have the right to refuse access if the dog is disrupting the regular flow and operation of their business (such as excessive barking, urinating or defecating, jumping up). Visit this link to find out what questions you are allowed to ask handlers of service dogs:

If you are a handler and are refused access and your dog is well-trained and doing his job, you can always file a discrimination complaint with the Department of Justice and Civil Rights Division:

What about Emotional Support Animals? 

Emotional support animals (ESA) function similarly to service and therapy dogs, but do not have the same rights and protections of the ADA as service dogs. ESAs purpose is to be a comfort to their handler simply by being present with the handler. ESAs do not receive the specialized training that service dogs do, therefore, they are not in the same category as service dogs.

Different Types of Service Dog Training

 Deciding to obtain a service dog can be an exciting venture! There is a myriad of choices you have moving forward with the decision, however. There are generally two different paths to obtain a service dog:

  1. Select and self-train a dog.
  1. Purchase a dog through an organization that is already trained for your disability.

There are pros and cons to each path, however option #2 usually presents sticker shock for those in the market to purchase a dog. Purchasing a service dog that is already trained can come with a price tag of anywhere between $20,000-$50,000. The reason for this is because housing, feeding, veterinarian care, and training hours are all figured into the prices of these dogs. Service dog training is a very specialized form of dog training, making it one of the most expensive types of training.

Additionally, many service dog agencies have long wait lists and rarely provide appropriate follow-on training to ensure the handler knows how to communicate and work with their dog.

Option #1 is certainly the most budget friendly route, however the handler must be prepared to spend countless hours training and socializing their dog to all of the environments where he will work, as well as teaching the dog the task work for the handler’s own disability.

There are some nonprofit organizations as well that help offset the costs of service dog training or donate service dogs to those in need.


All expenses pertaining to your service dog are tax deductible. This includes equipment, training, food, and veterinarian bills!

Dog Training Camp USA Does It Differently

With the options above, DTCUSA sees there is a huge gap that needs filled for people who cannot afford a fully trained dog, or cannot invest the time into training solely by themselves. We believe that any disabled person who needs a service dog should have an alternative option to those outlined above.

Our service and therapy dog program works with the individual to ensure they are successful in their journey, whether they already have a dog that can be trained, or they are needing to start from scratch with a new dog.

Our program starts with your dog completing four weeks at our training camp, where he will get the necessary introduction to obedience, public access, and task work for the disability. The following 6-12 months consist of meeting for sessions with our training staff out in the real world where you will be working with your dog. We have accompanied clients to their place of work, school, sporting events, and even the airport!

This is essentially a hybrid model of training, where the first half of training is conducted in our care and supervision to ensure the success of the dog in basic tasks, and the second half of training is conducted with the actual handler of the service or therapy dog. This gives the handler confidence to manage their dog in real-world scenarios, as well as ensure the dog is responding in the appropriate manner to their service tasks. This model also slashes the cost of purchasing a service or therapy dog, and greatly diminishes the time needed to self-train basic obedience and public manners.

Getting Started

 An in-person consultation and evaluation of your dog is required before acceptance into DTCUSA’s service and therapy dog program. To get on the schedule, fill out a contact form or give us a call at (502) 356-3059!