Defining the difference between a service dog 
and a therapy dog

By Nick White

Dogs are beloved members of the family. They are loyal and loving and make great additions to any home, whether you have a family or not. They are more than just pets; they are companions that you can count on to give you all of the love and friendship that you can want. They are great listeners and ready for cuddles whenever you need them. This shows that dogs are more than just pets. They are best friends and loved ones that are there when you need them.

Dogs are perfect animals to help humans. They can be service dogs or therapy dogs, both of which have the important purpose of helping humans get through their day. A common misconception is that service dogs and therapy dogs are the same thing. This could not be further from the truth. They each have their distinct purposes.

Service dogs are trained to do tasks and other work that can help with their owner’s disability or illness. They can help offer their owner a level of independence that they may not have previously had access to. They were once only known for helping their visually impaired owners, but now there are so many purposes of a service dog. Because of their keen senses and loyal and loving behaviors, services dogs can help with people who have seizures, diabetes, hearing impairment, and many other ailments where a person may need additional assistance. For example, a person who has seizures may benefit from having a service dog for a variety of reasons. The dog can help inform parents when their child is having a seizure. A dog can also be trained to break the fall of their owner when they are having a seizure so that they do not hit the floor on the way down. A service dog can also help an owner with diabetes to let them know if their blood sugar is too low.

These dogs can be either trained by their owners or by a special organization made to train service dogs. Owners often choose to train their own service dogs to help meet their individual needs. There are a number of tasks that can be taught to a dog to help a person in need, including:

Service dogs can help their owners with their medication. One way they can do this is by helping their owner by bringing them their medication. They can also bring their owner a drink in order to take their medicine. The dog can also be trained to remind their owner to take medicine when needed. They are also able to carry medicines for their owner in backpacks.

Dogs are great alarms. They can wake their owner up for work or school. Service dogs can help to respond to alarms in case of emergencies. Service dogs can also be taught to bring phones to their owners in case it is needed.

Other Assistance
Service dog can help with many other things. They can help lead their owner around places to ensure safety. Dogs can turn on light switches, as well as help keep their owners steady, and anything else that they need to do in order to help assist when they are needed most.
An important thing to note about service dogs is that they need to be focused on their owner in case something happens and should not be distracted by being pet and fed treats by other people.

Therapy dogs serve a different purpose. Rather than being trained to perform service tasks like bringing medication, therapy dogs are trained for things like providing affection to those who have learning difficulties, or those in hospitals and retirement homes. Unlike service dogs, which are traditionally only certain breeds, most dogs are able to be trained to be a therapy dog.  Another difference between therapy dogs and service dogs is that therapy dogs are encouraged to be lively and social dogs.

It is hard to not feel good when a puppy is sitting with you and wagging its tail happily. As it turns out, therapy dogs can provide their own specific benefits in certain situations. Research has been conducted and concluded that therapy dogs are able to temporarily affect different aspects of the brain. This includes affecting the release of some neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin and dopamine levels which can be increased. With these increases, cortisol levels are decreased. This is important to note because cortisol is related to stress.

There are many different applications that therapy dogs can be used for. A therapy dog can help increase the self-confidence of a child with a learning disability that may be having difficulty reading out loud. Some colleges also use these dogs to help students who are stressed, especially around important test times. Therapy dogs can also be good companions by visiting people in hospitals or nursing homes, making the people that they visit happy while they are there.

As far as training your therapy dog or your service dog, you can either train them yourself or bring them to an organization such as Off Leash K9 Training that specializes in their training, which can be a quicker method of training. If you are going to train the dog yourself, you will first need to make sure that you teach basic obedience with distractions. After this is mastered, you can move onto task oriented lessons. This includes getting medicine bottles or opening doors and drawers for their owner. In order to be considered a service dog, they need to have completed this training and be able to complete at least two tasks that are related to their owner’s specific disability or need.

Service and therapy dogs are incredibly useful assets to humans who are in need. With the proper training, these dogs can be lifesavers. Dogs are great companions for humans and this is what makes them the perfect helpers.  ND

Nick White is the owner of Off-Leash K9 Training ( which specializes in private lessons, dog behavior consultations, and teaching owners why their dogs do the things they do. Nick is a former US Marine and US Secret Service who also trained with some of the best trainers in the world. He has trained with Andrew Ramsey who was the Lead Drug/Bomb Detection Trainer at Lackland Air Force Base which is where all of the military dogs are trained.


Therapy dog groups in the DC Metro region are always looking for human and canine volunteers. Get involved today by contacting one of the organizations listed below, or visit Therapy Dogs International ( or the Delta Society ( to learn more about therapy dog registration and visitation programs nationwide.

Fairfax Pets on Wheels, Inc.
A therapy dog visitation program that connects pets with people living in assisted living and nursing homes in Fairfax County, VA.

PAL (People Animals Love)
An organization that brings people and animals together to brighten the lives of the lonely, ease the pain of the sick and enrich the world of at-risk children.

National Capital Therapy Dogs, Inc.
301.585.NCTD (585-6283)
A volunteer organization that provides animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activities to healthcare facilities in the DC Metro area.