Assistance Dogs vs Therapy Dogs

Assistance Dogs vs Therapy Dogs

Assistance Dog International (ADI), the policy making and educational organization for national and international assistance dog programs, identifies 3 categories of dogs that assist people with medical/physical challenges. They are:

Guide Dogs for the blind or visually impaired. These dogs assist by avoiding obstacles, stopping at curbs, steps and/or uneven surfaces and negotiating traffic. Occasionally a combination of a Service/Guide Dog is trained to assist the client with daily living activities and to guide them when they travel independently.

Most Guide Dog organizations selectively breed Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers or crosses between these two breeds.

Hearing Dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing assist by alerting individuals to a variety of household sounds such as a knock at the door or a doorbell, alarm clock, oven buzzer, telephone, crying baby, name call or smoke alarm. The dogs are trained to make physical contact and lead their deaf partner to the source of the sound.  They are generally mixed breed small dogs and are often acquired from animal shelters. They must be energetic and ready to work the instant they hear a sound and must be friendly people-oriented dogs.

Service Dogs are used by people with disabilities other than visual or hearing impairments. These dogs are specially trained to help mitigate many different types of disabilities. They are trained to work with people who use power or manual wheelchairs, have balance related issues, various types of autism, need seizure alert or response, need to be alerted to medical issues like low blood sugar or have psychological or psychiatric disabilities.

Seizure response dogs may be taught to stay close to their handler until the seizure ends or may bring the phone and lay it next to a person when a seizure begins. Although alerting a person to a seizure before it occurs cannot be taught, many seizure response dogs often learn to sense the onset of a seizure and alert their human partner in time for that person to position themselves safely.

Service dogs frequently learn as many as eighty commands to include retrieving objects, pulling wheelchairs, opening or closing doors, turning light switches off and on, barking to indicate help is needed, finding another person and leading that person to the handler, assisting ambulatory persons to walk, and many other individualized tasks. Most service dog organizations train Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers or a cross between the two although many other breeds have proven to be successful service dogs.

Appropriate selection of an assistance dog candidate is critical for success. The average assistance dog is in advanced training for 4-6 months. The final placement rate for full service dogs is generally around 30-50%. Many dogs that do not become full service dogs become assistive dogs in homes or in medical facilities and are not given public access rights. Dogs are usually placed between 18 months to 2 years old. Assistance dogs generally work for 10-12 years before retirement and then become pets.

Major assistance and service dog organizations:

Paws With A Cause, ( the largest US assistance dog training organization, is located in Wayland, Michigan. PWC trains guide, hearing, and service dogs and combinations of these for people throughout the US. Most hearing dogs come from local shelters and most service dogs are purebreds that are raised by puppy raisers for about 15 months before they are sent to Paws for advanced training.

Canine Companions for Independence ( is a very large service dog training organization with campuses throughout the US. CCI also uses an extensive puppy raising program and places dogs with clients throughout the US.

The Hairy Angel Foundation is a small non-profit local Yavapai County based Service Dog organization that raises and trains Golden Retrievers to be placed with autistic children. No contact is provided because they are referred to only through health care providers.

Organizations like Canine Companions of the Rockies operates much the same offering service dogs only in the Colorado area. Many similar organizations function under bylaws of ADI and if they do not they need to be avoided.

Assistance Dog International ( lists a directory of assistance dog training programs and provides general information for anyone interested in learning more about guide, hearing and service dogs.

Assistance Dogs are usually guaranteed legal access to all places of public accommodation, public transportation, recreation and any place the general public is allowed. They are usually identified by wearing a harness (guide dogs), a specialized jacket or a hood.

The Americans with Disabilities Act creates some definition confusion for people by identifying any animal that assists a person with a medical challenge as "service animals" because animals other than dogs have been trained to provide service.

"Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. This federal law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis and shuttles, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks, and zoos." Recently this has been sadly abused by people using less than well trained and groomed dogs passing as Service Dogs.

Therapy Dogs are not assistance dogs and do not have public access by law. They are usually personal pets of their handlers and accompany their handlers to sites they visit. Therapy Dogs must meet specific criteria for health, grooming and behavior. Other animals besides dogs can be Therapy Animals. The most common types of therapy dogs are:

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a goal-directed program involving dogs helping patients or clients in a health care environment where a health care professional utilizes the presence of the dog to motivate a client to make certain motions. A client might brush the dog, walk with the dog or practice buttoning buttons on a dog’s vest while the health care professional assists thus encouraging ambulation skills. Records are carefully kept of these interactions.

Animal Assisted Activities (AAA) are basically casual activities that involve dogs visiting people in institutions such as nursing homes, hospitals or schools. Therapy dogs provide a break from daily routines of illness and loneliness for residents, visitors and staff. They have long been recognized as enhancing the healing process by increasing happiness, calmness and emotional support. Studies show blood pressure and stress levels decrease during Therapy Dog visits.

Therapy Dogs Incorporated (, Delta Society ( and Therapy Dogs International, Inc. ( are the three organizations who register Therapy Dogs. The three organizations operate similarly with similar requirements.

Yavapai Regional Medical Center is affiliated with Delta’s Pet Partners Program. YRMC calls their program Pets are Warm Support (PAWS) and only accepts Pet Partner's registered dogs.  Dandy Dawgs Therapy Teams Network (a non-profit community out reach Therapy Dog program) calls its program Luv Mutts and accepts Pet Partner's, TDI and TDInc registered dogs.

If interested in the PAWS program or to be evaluated by Pet Partner’s contact Lynnel Walters, Director of Volunteer Services at YRMC 928 771 5678.

If interested in being evaluated by Therapy Dogs Incorporated, contact TDInc evaluator Jan Monroe at 928-771-0230 or 602-509-3666

If interested in Luv Mutts contact Andy Lloyd with Dandy Dawgs 928 778 2033.

You can expect to be scheduled for an orientation or evaluation depending whether you choose the PAWS program or the Luv Mutts program. Each program requires you to fulfill the requirements of the organization you are registered with as well as the PAWS or Luv Mutts specific requirements.

Pet Partners requires a reevaluation every two years, TDInc requires renewal each year. Once registered, you may take your dog anywhere Therapy Dogs are allowed given permission by the facility.  Luv Mutts provides a reevaluation for maintained training each year to remain in their program.

TDInc, Pet Partners and TDI offer reading programs for libraries and schools. Children enjoy reading to patient Therapy Dogs and usually increase reading skills dramatically. Gabriel’s Angels is an organization of Therapy Dog Teams who reach out to at risk children and is now active in the Prescott area accepting all three organizations or registered Therapy Teams.

Therapy Dog Teams help children, hospice families, the aged, the debilitated, those in substance recover and all number of life crisis situations.

By Andy Lloyd of Dandy Dawgs 928.778.2033 or visit or

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