The Differences between Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs

Dogs can be trained to perform many actions to help handlers or other people to tackle some difficulties. There are at least two types of trained dogs which are purposefully drilled to serve certain functions depending on the intention of the handlers; the types include service dogs and therapy dogs.

They are similar in some aspects, but also different in many things. Some organizations provide training centers and professional trainers to prepare both types of dogs for the people who need them. Since each type serves different functions, the training methods are logically different, too.

Below you will find the overview of both types followed by the most basic differences between them.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are trained to visit public facilities such as hospitals and schools or wherever dog assistance is necessary. They are prepared to assist or encourage people such as patients or children with learning disabilities. In other words, the dogs are not drilled to perform certain activities only for the handler.

In the broadest sense, the animals encourage people to deal with difficulties, diseases, stress, and other mental/psychological conditions.

It is believed that when patients pet dogs, the health conditions can be significantly improved. It also reduces patient’s anxiety before surgeons perform surgical operations.

Besides hospitals and schools, therapy dogs often visit nursing homes and pediatric facilities. They are usually calm and greatly obedience even when they encounter strange environment.

The animals are as well willingly to accept strangers to pet them. Sometimes, therapy dogs have to encounter unpleasant sight or odors in hospital environment; however, the handler is also well trained to keep the pets under control at such situation.

Service Dogs

Service dogs are trained only to help the handler to perform some activities. The animals often accompany veterans, wounded soldiers, elderly, or people with partial disabilities. In many cases, each dog is trained based on the necessities of the handler.

Service dogs should go anywhere the handler goes. In other words, the animals are allowed to access public facilities or commercial buildings such as restaurants, churches, libraries, transportation systems, and more.

A service dog is drilled to perform actions to help only the handler. For instance, a therapy dog owned by a person suffering a permanent leg injury should be trained to pull a wheel chair and help the handler to perform fundamental activities such as providing alerts to the sounds of doorbell, ringing phone, alarm clock, etc.


The most noticeable difference is that service dog is purposefully trained to assist only the handler. The animal can do various actions to help the handler to perform daily activities, while a therapy dog is meant to be everybody’s pet.

Another major difference is that therapy dogs can be from any breeds, while service dogs are mainly Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, and German shepherds.

Therapy dogs are only allowed to visit supervised public facilities, while service dogs can go anywhere the handler goes.