What You Need to Know About Service Dogs

Service dogs – how to have good manners around them, what they do, what rights disabled people have when using service dogs.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #104

I wrote this week’s article partly in reaction to all the signs I see on the doors of shops, restaurants, and even the US Postal Service office in my neighborhood—the signs that say “No Dogs Allowed,” or “Only Guide Dogs for the Blind Allowed.” People, you’re breaking federal law. Well-behaved service dogs are always allowed. That means more than just dogs who guide blind people. This week: what service dogs do, what the law is about service dogs, and how humans can be as well-behaved as service dogs.

What Is a Therapy Dog?

First, a moment with the dictionary, for anyone who’s not sure about the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog. Therapy dogs are calm, friendly, well-trained dogs who don’t spook at the sights and sounds of hospitals and nursing homes. They also don’t get alarmed by odd human behavior, or get upset by occasional clumsy handling. After being certified by a group such as the Delta Society or the Good Dog Foundation, therapy dogs can visit hospital and nursing home patients. For people who are mentally or physically ill, and who may be lonely and upset, therapy dogs provide comfort and sometimes a bridge to the world. There are accounts of autistic children speaking their first words to a therapy dog, for instance. Therapy dogs are usually pet or companion dogs. Apart from their therapy work, they don’t have special access to public places but are subject to local law just like other pet dogs.

How Is a Service Dog Different from a Therapy Dog?

Service dogs, on the other hand, are working dogs. They’re trained to provide specific kinds of help for people with disabilities of one sort or another. We’ve all seen guide dogs working with blind people. Hearing or signal dogs assist deaf persons by alerting them to doorbells, the sound of their name being called on the street, even the noise of a break-in. (I once played the burglar in a training session.)

What Do Service Dogs Do?

The Puppies Behind Bars program trains dogs to assist military veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).