Many family caregivers are well aware of how much joy and love dogs can bring to our lives. There’s nothing quite like the companionship of a dog to ease loneliness. While seniors can certainly benefit from just owning a pet dog, caregivers may wonder if having an emotional support dog, therapy dog, or service dog might be even better. But, what’s the difference between them and which one might be right for your aging parent? For that matter, does your parent really need a specially trained dog or would a loving companion animal do? Knowing the difference between these three types of dogs and some of the rules surrounding their ownership may help caregivers to decide just what kind of dog their elderly parent needs.

What’s the Difference?

Lots of people use the terms therapy dog and service dog interchangeably, but there’s actually a big difference between the two and also between those two and emotional support dogs. For one thing, only one of them is granted full access to places by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and that’s service dogs. Let’s take a look at what each kind of dog does.

Service dogs are dogs that have been trained to do tasks for people with disabilities. One example of a service dog that many people are familiar with are guide dogs for the blind. These dogs are trained to help visually impaired people to safely navigate the world. Dogs can be trained to perform many other tasks, too. A hearing ear dog can alert its owner to a ringing telephone, the doorbell, or a smoke alarm. Some service dogs are trained to pull wheelchairs, open doors, and pick up dropped items. These dogs are protected under the ADA and can go anywhere their owners go.

Therapy dogs are dogs that are trained to provide comfort to people in difficult situations. They may visit hospitals, retirement homes, or disaster areas to interact with people. They can help to reduce the anxiety that people feel. These dogs don’t have to be able to do specific tasks. However, they must be trained to interact appropriately with people and be obedient.

Emotional support dogs are ones that give their owners emotional comfort. They are often used for people who are suffering from PTSD. These dogs do not have complete public access like service dogs do. However, with authorization from a doctor, they can fly with their owners and may be allowed in housing that normally does not allow pets.

So, What’s Best for Your Parent?

That really depends on your parent’s individual needs. If they have mobility issues, a service dog that is trained to help them get around may be right. However, if they suffer from anxiety, an emotional support dog would be better. If they are merely lonely, caregivers should consider adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue organization to offer companionship. The dog needn’t have any special training beyond what it takes to live with your parent.

Regardless of the kind of dog a caregiver decides their parent needs, you should keep in mind that dogs are a lifetime commitment. They need care, too, and should have a home if the older adult passes away or can no longer keep them. Dog ownership of any kind should never be taken lightly.


When you are in need of care for a senior loved one, consider home care provided by Golden Heart Senior Care. We have offices nationwide. For more information, call us today at (800) 601-2792.