The Difference Between A “Service Dog” and A “Therapy Dog”

A common question is whether a therapy dog is the same as a service dog. Each of these dogs has a very different job from the other and the terms are actually not interchangeable. In addition, different regulations and laws apply to Service Dogs and Therapy Dogs. 


What is a Service Dog?

Service Dogs (also known as Assistance Dogs) are trained to perform tasks and to do work that eases their handlers’ disabilities. Working as part of a team with their disabled partners, service dogs help them attain safety and independence.

Service Dogs are trained to help people with physical or mental disabilities, such as visual impairments, anxiety, depression, seizure disorders, diabetes, PTSD, etc. They help with daily tasks that are otherwise difficult for their handlers to do because of their disabilities. The job of a service dog and their training is specified to the type of disability their handler has.


It is very important to note that these dogs are not for petting as it could prevent them from performing their job correctly. Most service dogs have a “no petting” policy established by their owners. These dogs are not considered to be pets. In fact, they are considered to be durable medical equipment. Service dogs are allowed ready access to all public spaces, without question, including workspaces, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and everywhere in between.

What is a Therapy Dog?

Therapy dogs also receive training but have a completely different type of job from service dogs. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers. These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit hospitals, schools, hospices, nursing homes and more. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs are encouraged to interact with a variety of people while they are on-duty including petting the therapy dog.

Therapy dogs may also visit schools, daycares, group homes and rehabilitation centres. Their roles vary from dogs who give learning disabled children the confidence to read out loud, to actively participating in physical rehabilitation therapy. In some cases, a therapy dog will work in an establishment exclusively, such as a psychotherapy practice.


Therapy dogs may be trained by just about anyone, but must meet set standards to be certified and registered and actively participate in the program. They are usually handled by their owners, but in some cases of Animal Assisted Therapy, the therapy dog may be handled by a trained professional.

It’s also more common to see Therapy Dogs used in the workplace to help relieve stress even for non-disability staff.


For more information about the laws and regulations of Service Dogs in Queensland, check out our workplace-related article:

Employer Tips For Supporting Staff With Assistance Dogs



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