The differences between a “Therapy Dog” vs “Service Dog”
Lets start with the main major difference and go from there as it may help you save time when thinking about what your needs are. A therapy dog is more of a companion and has the same legal rights as any household pet whereas a service dog has the same rights as a guide dog and can go almost anywhere with you including on planes. Therapy dogs are sometimes given some leniency but generally its harder to impossible to argue the point to take them with you when flying on a plane for example.
Therapy dogs can be trained to do the same things as a service dog but unless they are accredited with a vest and photo ID they do not have the same rights. Don’t get me wrong—a therapy dog can help you just as much but does not undergo annual reviews and Public Access training. It also costs you an initial fee to train a dog and an ongoing annual fee to keep your service dog registered.
For service dogs, there are a couple of ways to go; select and train a dog yourself (ideally aged 1-4 years of age or apply for a dog to be selected and trained for you.
If you selected to train your own dog I highly recommend finding a “Delta” trainer as they use “positive reinforcement” techniques and train the handler just as much if not more than the dog. They will be able to assess your dog for suitability to undergo training as a service dog.
I was fortunate enough to find the lovely Julie from “See Spot Sit” who trains service dogs; it was the best investment I made as my pup “Harvey” a Chihuahua was 8 months old and I didn’t want to taint his training by guessing and making it up myself as I might create hard habits to break early on unnecessarily.
I was so proud that in just one session with Julie I had Harvey sit, stay, lay down and leave it! What a proud fur mum I was but that’s not always the case.
Julie showed me and taught “me” just as much in our session. I can’t recommend it more to go straight to the professionals. Then the hard work begins as not only do you need to be consistent but anyone else in your household that interacts with the dog when training needs to be also. I did 15 mins in the morning and 15 mins in the afternoon.
So why did I go with a Service Dog over a Therapy dog?
I live daily with C.P.T.S.D (Complex P.T.S.D or Multiple Traumas) which comes with deep depression cycles, severe disabling anxiety, Triggers, Flashbacks.
What does my Service Dog do to my daily life?
Put simply I isolate myself from the outside world only going to medical appointments and doing groceries, even then my anxiety is through the roof. What has changed since having “Harvey” with me 24/7 is my confidence to venture out.
He distracts me when he see’s I’m becoming anxious and physically shaking. I am forever grateful for the calmness he exudes. I pretty much live in fight/flight mode which is exhausting but with “Harvey” he lets me know if anyone is approaching the bedroom at night which in turn lets me get some sleep instead of living with insomnia. He let’s me know if anyone is on our property (rural) so I feel safer. So much bang for a little feller but he sure does do the job!
Harvey creates a space between me and other people without them realising, even with his small size. You must be prepared however to let people know it is NOT ok to pat him as he is a “working dog”; no matter how cute he is as if you can’t do that then it will make life harder for you with a service dog (impossible).
You need to be prepared, no matter what size dog you have to state that they are not with you just for show but they are working. It is, of course, different if you’re at the local dog park with no service dog vest on them, its a different story as they are not in work mode but socialise mode. Speaking of which if your dog becomes aggressive with other dogs/people they will not be suitable to be a service dog.
Currently most all organisations that train service dogs in Australia are inundated with requests from Military and manned by volunteers and underfunded; but you should know that as P.T.S.D does not discriminate by age, religion, race or job.
So if you are a first responder (police, fire, paramedic) or a civilian; train driver, S.E.S worker, Mine worker, Contractor or labourer (civilians) you are just as entitled to apply as long as you can substantiate your diagnosis of P.T.S.D and with the assistance and support of your Psychiatrist you can apply detailing what you feel a service dog can do for you to help your day to day living and quality of life.
The waiting time can vary up to a 1-2 year wait so you need to be committed to the process which no doubt you will be after reading this and knowing “basically” what your up for. Of course, there is much more detail and information available.
You can email me if you want more detailed information or wait for Part 2 where I will list the organisations under both categories: Service Dog and Therapy Dog.