By Hannah Breall

The Americans with Disabilities Act describes service dogs as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal that is trained to give assistance to an individual with a disability. For example, some dogs are trained to pull wheelchairs, others are taught to alert to the sounds of the telephone, oven timers, alarm clocks, smoke alarms, and even a baby’s cry. While doing their job, service dogs are not considered pets.

Unlike therapy dogs, service dogs and their human companions must be allowed access to buildings (including restaurants, libraries, supermarkets, and churches), transportation systems, and other public areas and services. Another difference between therapy and service dogs is that the latter are often picked by breed for certain characteristics.

What It Takes to be a Service Dog

Service dogs should have all the characteristics of a therapy dog, plus a few others. For example, certain breeds are chosen for specific types of service. In the United States, 60 to 70 percent of all working guide dogs for the blind are Labrador retrievers. Golden retrievers and German shepherds are next in popularity. These dogs are chosen because of their temperament, versatility, size, intelligence, and availability. Guide dogs must be hard workers, large enough to guide people while in harness and small enough to be easily controlled and fit comfortably on public transportation and under restaurant tables.

What It Takes to be a Therapy Dog

Therapy dogs have almost all of the same characteristics of guide dogs, but are used for different jobs. Therapy dogs are not trained to push wheelchairs, listen for smoke alarms, timers, etc. but they do serve an entirely other purpose. Therapy dogs are for those who have just been through a traumatic experience and need the extra support and comfort, for those going through hard times, and even those who struggle with things such as reading aloud. The job of a therapy dog can vary in magnitude, but it all helps. Also, a therapy dog can differ in breed. There is a wide range of breeds used for therapy dogs, including the golden retriever, but you will most often find that therapy dogs tend to be around the 20-30 pound range. These dogs can sit comfortably on your lap, and still travel well wherever need be.