Therapy Dog vs. Service Dog?

Dogs inside the grocery stores? Dogs in the restroom stall next to yours? Some breeds are barely five pounds and others are the same size as humans. Spoiled or abandoned dogs grab our attention and hearts with their dedicated, unconditional love.


“Is your dog working?” has been the most asked question when I am in public with my dog, Zoey. Then they tag on, “May I pet your dog?”

Let me address the first question. If a person is in public with a dog that has a backpack, the dog is working some type of job.

Two of the most common jobs are therapy work and service work. One major difference between the two tasks is that therapy dogs train to show affection to people. Service dogs are taught to attach to one person and are not to ask for affection from other people. That seems simple, “Right?” Except…

When you encounter a hybrid therapy/ service dog, the dog will be a friendly service dog in public. They tend to recognize when people need assistance or a little extra love.


Our favorite volunteer, Mary Lou, at Providence Medical Center.

Zoey the Therapy Dog trained to be a hybrid. She is a veteran of the National Pet Partners’ therapy dog association because she loves people. However, she developed the ability to detect when I am starting to have a stroke. I worked on her scent detection skills during her training sessions as a puppy.

A local dog trainer and my doctors noticed she warned me when my blood pressure elevated. My brain is damaged and does not emit the proper chemicals to keep my blood pressure under control. When Zoey hops on my lap or chest, my breathing can regulate and the proper hormones are released in my brain to lower my blood pressure faster than pharmaceuticals. She even reverses strokes under adverse conditions.

For the most up-to-date information on typical service dogs check out this link.

Assistance Dogs International regulations leave little room for the ambiguity of a hybrid therapy dog/ service dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that a service dog needs to perform three necessary jobs for their person with a disability.

All organizations agree that the person with a disability assumes responsibility for any and all damages to businesses their dog enters. The same is true of a therapy dog team.

Service dogs go through yearly recertifications. If the dog has forgotten skills, they are retrained at the chosen facility.  Pet Partners’ therapy teams are assessed for public access every two years. Go to if you think your dog would make an excellent therapy dog.



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