What is the Difference Between a Psychiatric Service Dog and an Emotional Support Animal?

Video Transcript

Hey everyone! I hope you’re having a great day. I am just working here and I happened to get an email from one of my readers asking a pretty common question, and that is what are the differences, if any, between a psychiatric service dog and an emotional support animal? So I wanted to take a minute to make a video here answering that question.

So, the first thing you need to know is that psychiatric service dogs are indeed their very own thing. Psychiatric service dogs are a legitimate type of service dog.

Next is that, when it comes to emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs, they are definitely two very different things!

Many people don’t realize this. They think that if you have a psychiatric disability, that you can only have an emotional support animal.

This isn’t true.

Just like service dogs and emotional support animals are very different, so are psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals.


So before we get to all their differences, I do want to say that they do have one very important similarity. That is that they both assist individuals with psychiatric disabilities. To qualify for a psychiatric service dog, you must be disabled by a psychiatric condition, which makes sense.

But did you also know that it’s the same thing for an emotional support animal?? You must have a psychiatric disability to qualify for an emotional support animal. End of story. This is another fact that people don’t know.

It’s pretty funny actually because my own husband, who is a physician, seems to always be forgetting that little very important piece that you have to have a psychiatric disability to have an emotional support animal. Even though, you know, we talk about this all the time and I’m always reminding him. But don’t worry! I’m going to keep reminding him until it’s very firm in his mind.

Now that we’ve covered that similarity, let’s talk about the differences between Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals:

Psychiatric Service Dogs are still service dogs and as such they must meet the minimum requirements required by law to legally be considered a service dog.

The ADA (or the American’s with Disabilities Act) defines a service dog as “a dog who is individually trained to do work or tasks for people with disabilities.”

So Psychiatric Service Dogs must do work or perform tasks that mitigate the psychiatric disabilities of their handler. They also must have been specifically trained to do so.

Now, on the other hand, Emotional Support Animals require no special training. They assist their disabled handler by simply existing and providing comfort, companionship, and love.

So therein lies the most important difference: Training.

Of course, Emotional Support Animals are definitely allowed to be well-behaved and exceptionally trained, as I believe any pet should be. But this training is different than the task training that Service Dogs undergo.

Task training is the thing that allows service dogs to accompany their disabled handlers into places that pets normally couldn’t go. Only handlers of service dogs are given the privilege to bring their dogs into places like grocery stores and restaurants.

Emotional Support Animals are not allowed to do the same!! Even if you are disabled, if your dog is not task trained, it is not allowed to accompany you into non-pet-friendly businesses. Even if your ESA is extremely well-behaved and extremely well-trained, that doesn’t mean that they can accompany you into non-pet-friendly places either.

Where are ESAs allowed?

ESAs are allowed to accompany their disabled handler onto an airplane (as long as they have a properly formatted note by their doctor). Also, ESAs are allowed to live with their handlers in housing that may not normally allow pets (but you must ask for reasonable accommodation for your ESA ahead of time).

Just as a little note, Psychiatric Service Dogs are also allowed in both of these places and they require the SAME documentation.

Let’s Review

  • Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals both assist people with psychiatric disabilities.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs and ESAs both require a special letter and prior notification in order to fly on an airplane with their handler (this is important to remember because this requirement is different from other types of service dogs). Psychiatric Service Dogs are required to have a special letter and other types of service dogs are not.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals are both allowed to live with their handlers in no-pets housing (but in both cases, you have to request a reasonable accommodation before bringing the dog into the dwelling, which is also the same requirement for any type of service dog as well).

Now, as far as the differences:

  • Psychiatric Service Dogs are specifically task-trained to mitigate their handler’s psychiatric disabilities, while Emotional Support Animals are not.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs are allowed to accompany their handler into public places and businesses that are not normally pet-friendly, while Emotional Support Animals do not have this privilege.

I hope this cleared up some questions about Psychiatric Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals.

If you have any questions or comments or suggestions for topics please let us know by commenting below this video or by messaging us on FB or sending us an email through our website, servicedogsociety.com.

We will see you next time for our next question!

Service Dog Society
The Service Dog Society is dedicated to the education, training and support of service dog handlers, their friends and family, service dog trainers and programs, puppy raisers, businesses, the general public, and anybody else who has questions about these marvelous helpers.Our goal is to provide as much information as possible, in a centralized location and in an easy-to-follow format. We know first hand how overwhelming the process of getting and/or training a service dog can be, for everyone involved! Our hope is to alleviate some of the confusion and difficulty that is a part of the process.