Types of Assistance Animals


The ADA states, “A service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.”

  • Labrador Retriever guide dog icon

    Guide Dog

    A dog trained to lead a visually-impaired person.

  • Mutt medical alert dog icon

    Medical Alert Dog

    A dog trained to warn their owners about an impending medical crisis.

  • Collie signal dog icon

    Signal Dog

    A dog trained to assist a hearing-impaired person by signaling the occurrence of certain sounds.

  • Golden Retriever psychiatric service dog icon

    Psychiatric Service Dog

    A dog trained to assist a person who suffers from a life-limiting psychiatric disability.


Dogs or other animals that provide a therapeutic benefit of companionship and emotional support to owners suffering from mental illness.


Dogs or other animals (temperament-tested) that provide comfort to individuals in controlled environments such as hospitals, disaster sites and schools.

Qualifications & Legal Rights


The ADA affirms the right of service dogs to accompany their owners in public establishments. It specifies that a service dog must be specially trained to perform tasks that mitigate a person’s life-limiting disability. This can be a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The owner must supervise and have control over their dog at all times and should be prepared to answer two questions. First, is the service dog required because of a disability? Secondly, what work or tasks has the dog been trained to perform? Additionally, the individual does not need to disclose the disability and documentation is not required either for them or their dog.

There is an exception for individuals who plan on flying with their service dog. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) requires additional documentation developed by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Owners must attest to their dog’s health, behavior, and training. If they will be on a flight longer than eight hours, owners must also attest their dog can either not relieve itself or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner. Note, psychiatric service dog owners are not required to provide airlines a letter from their licensed mental health professional stating the need for their animal.


Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals have limited legal rights. The Fair Housing Act doesn't consider emotional support animals as pets and therefore they are excluded from a pet policy. However, the animal must be well mannered and the owner should be prepared to provide documentation. Currently, the only valid form of documentation is a letter from a practicing mental health professional. It should indicate that due to mental illness, the prescription of an emotional support animal is necessary in aiding the life-limiting symptoms the individual experiences. Furthermore, the letter should be dated within the last twelve months, be written on the mental health professional’s official letterhead and include their license number and direct contact information. It’s important to note that the letter must come from your treating mental health professional. It is not sufficient to purchase an ESA letter from any website.


Effective January 10, 2021

Emotional support animals are no longer recognized as service animals. The ACAA now defines a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. With that said, airlines are permitted to treat emotional support animals as pets and may choose to transport them pursuant to their established pet policy.


Therapy dogs have no legal protection and there are no special rights protecting these assistance animals from an established pet policy. A well-behaved pet with a friendly disposition may qualify for testing to become a certified therapy dog. A good therapy dog exhibits a consistent calm demeanor and reliably follows commands in a variety of situations. Testing simulates realistic circumstances that a therapy dog would experience on the job. Depending on which non-profit organization you choose to volunteer with, the certification process will differ slightly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

What is the definition of a disability?

The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

What are the standards for training a service dog?

The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) has developed a set of minimum training standards for service dogs and their handlers to follow in effort to minimize disruption to the public. In short, a service dog should undergo a minimum of 120 hours of schooling over six months (or more) with at least 30 hours devoted to outings in the public. They must also acquire proper social behavior skills and master basic obedience. Click here to view the full list of IAADP’s minimum training standards.

Is a public access test required for service dogs?

No. The purpose of the test is to ensure that dogs are stable, well-mannered and non-threatening to the public. It’s very important that all service dogs meet this standard.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

The FHA is a federal law that protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities.

Can my landlord require a pet fee?

No. Since both a service animal and an emotional support animal are viewed as a reasonable accommodation in a housing unit, they are not considered a pet and therefore not subject to a pet policy. However, you are responsible for any damage caused by the animal.

What is the Air Carrier Access Act?

The ACAA is a federal law that assures the right of individuals with disabilities to travel with their service animal in the cabin of an aircraft without discrimination.

Can the airline require a pet fee for my service animal?

No. When traveling by air, Department of Transportation rules prohibit discrimination of individuals with mental disabilities. Since a service animal is viewed as a reasonable accommodation, they are not considered a pet and therefore not subject to a pet policy.

Can the airline require a pet fee for my emotional support animal?

Yes, as of January 10, 2021 the ACAA no longer recognizes emotional support animals as service animals. That said, airlines are now permitted to treat emotional support animals as pets and therefore are subject their established pet policy.

What is a mental health professional?

A mental health professional is a health care practitioner or social and human services provider who offers services for the purpose of improving an individual's mental health or to treat mental disorders. Click here to learn more about the specifics of each professional role.

Why are legal protections for Emotional Support Animals and Psychiatric Service Dogs different?

Psychiatric service dogs and emotional support animals are prescribed for different reasons. The ADA considers a disability to be life limiting and doesn’t recognize emotional support animals as a physical requirement. Please refer to our infographic to learn more about the primary purposes of each.

Is there a legal registration process for assistance animals?

Currently, there is no required legal registration process for service dogs or emotional support animals. However, therapy dogs must be licensed to a specific non-profit organization and follow their requirements. Additionally, all assistance animals are subject to local animal licensing and registration regulations.

Are there any breed restrictions for assistance animals?

There are no breed restrictions for any type of assistance animal. However, in the majority of cases involving service or therapy dogs, certain breeds are chosen for their specific characteristics. Stay tuned for our blog post for more specifics!