Raksha -- Moonsong Law of the Jungle is hoping to retire soon as a
Service Dog for Chinook breeder Pam Chambers of Spring Creek Chinooks.
Raksha was bred to our stud Kody Joe and her daughter Katie is now
the next generation of Service Dog for Pam.

Service vs. Therapy vs. Emotional Support Dogs
by Ginger Corley with Kathleen Riley Daniels

Originally published in the Summer 2020
Chinook Quarterly

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about the various jobs dogs can have supporting humans physically and mentally. Chinooks have proven to be good at these tasks, so I wanted to break them down with a few real-life examples to illustrate each type of job.

There are no specific laws requiring dogs be certified in these tasks but both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Veterans’ Administration have their own regulations that have become the norm throughout the country. ADA information can be found at https://adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet.

The three categories we’ll look at are Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, and Emotional Support Dogs though not necessarily in that order. The chart below will show you the differences between them.

Table 1. Therapy Dog, Service Dog, Emotional Support Dog

Allowed by ADA to accompany their handler in public places like restaurants, movies, and stores.
Provides emotional support and comfort to more than one person usually in an institution’s or organization’s facility
Specially trained to provide specific tasks for people with disabilities.
Are allowed in housing even if there is a “No Pets” policy
Must be certified or registered
Is required to go through training to handle a variety of environments and situations
Can accompany their handler in the cabin of an airplane
Requires a prescription or written orders from a mental health professional to be valid (you can’t declare your dog to be one without this)
Requires authorization from a doctor for assistance with specific tasks.
*In the case of a Psychiatric Service Dog, which is different than an Emotional Support Dog, input from a mental health professional may be part of the project, along with input from the patient's doctor.


A Therapy Dog is one that is trained to provide comfort to people. It can do so in multiple ways. Therapy Dogs could be a pet trained to the point that it has passed the qualification requirements of an organization like Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society). The owner-dog team then visit people in need of comfort. These teams visit locations like nursing homes, hospitals, disaster sites, daycares, or just about any other place where people need of comfort. Therapy Dogs must be very well trained and able to handle all sorts of situations ranging from people pulling at their ears through poking at them. Their handlers try to shield the dog from any actual abuse of uncomfortable contact.

Salishan came to me as a 10-week old pup from Debbie Premus’ Boreayl Kennel in Ohio. She was a breeze to train since she seemed to have absorbed everything the older dogs were doing. I just had to make sure that she knew the right word for the right action, and she had it down cold. Here at home she was a love bug, very snuggly and affectionate, and eventually a good mom to three litters of wonderful Chinook pups. But after she was retired from motherhood, she needed a job. Enter Tessa Thomas who owned one of her pups, Rain Mountain Frontier Shuksan (Remy). Tessa wanted a second dog and, as a professional dog trainer, was looking for one that she could train as a Therapy Dog. Salishan and Tessa clicked, and Shani moved to Portland, Oregon with Tessa. And so began their training. It wasn’t easy. I’d had Shani trained in basic obedience and household manners. (All my dogs go through at least a puppy class and two adult classes to become good household members.) But Tessa and Shani both needed more training before they could pass the stringent requirements of Pet Partners.

In addition to having a well-trained dog, Pet Partners’ handlers must also pass a criminal background check, be able to read their dog’s body language intuitively, and have the ability to work with the people they meet on visits. They also must prove that they interact positively with their dog, cueing or redirecting it quietly when necessary. No harsh corrections or discipline are allowed during visits.

Table 2. Pet Partners Requirements for Therapy Dogs
Criteria for Prospective Therapy Animals

Pet Partners Therapy Animals must meet the following criteria:
  • Are at least one year old at the time of evaluation, or six months old for rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats. Have a young animal? See our tips for preparing for future therapy work.
  • Have lived in the owner’s home for at least six months, or one year for birds.
  • Must be reliably house trained. Waste collection devices are not permitted, with the exception of flight suits for birds.
  • Be currently vaccinated against rabies. Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and birds are exempt from this requirement. Titers are not accepted in lieu of vaccination.
  • May not be fed a raw meat diet.
  • Have no history of aggression or seriously injuring either people or other animals. This includes animals who have been trained to aggressively protect and/or have been encouraged to bite, even if it is a component of dog sport, such as Schutzhund.
  • Demonstrate good basic obedience skills. Animals walking with a lead should walk on a loose leash and respond reliably to common commands such as “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “come,” and “leave it.”
  • Welcome, not merely tolerate, interactions with strangers.
  • Be comfortable wearing Pet Partners acceptable equipment.

It took a while for Tessa and Salishan to pass the requirements for Pet Partners, but they were successful. They began their Therapy Dog work visiting a children’s hospital and other facilities. Prior to each visit Shani had to be bathed and nails trimmed (those darn Chinook toenails!) so she wouldn’t take any dirt in or be in danger of scratching someone. After each visit she would be quite tired. Shani just had her 12 th birthday and has retired but it was a big part of her life for a few years and made me glad that she and Tessa had found each other.

David Frei, voice of the Thanksgiving National Dog Show and the Easter’s Beverly Hills Kennel Club Dog Show is a huge proponent of Therapy Dogs. “The use of therapy dogs in healthcare environments has expanded steadily over the past couple of decades,” said Frei. “There is so much scientific research supporting the benefits of the practice that the time has come to bring people together to facilitate additional growth.” Hopefully we’ll see more Chinooks and their humans rising to this challenge.

Therapy Dog Registration / Certification Groups

  • Alliance of Therapy Dogs (formerly Therapy Dogs, Inc.)
  • Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs
  • Love on a Leash
  • Pet Partners (previously Delta Society)
  • Therapy Dogs Incorporated (TD Inc.) – the new name is Alliance of Therapy Dogs
  • Therapy Dogs International (TDI)

The second type of Therapy Dog is one that lives full time in a facility such as a nursing home or hospice, providing comfort to the residents. These dogs are trained to visit all the residents as their services are needed. The staff provides care, and they make sure the dogs have downtime and sufficient exercise. Dogs must have a high level of intuition to be truly successful as full time Therapy Dogs. The dog may live on-site or with a staff member who brings it to work each day.

Disaster and crisis work are a specialty of the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K9 Comfort Dogs (or what they call Disaster Stress Relief Dogs or DSRD), a group of Golden Retrievers to provide comfort at disaster sites across the country. Pups joining the program are taken in straight from their litters and spend time with multiple puppy raisers so that they will acclimate to working with multiple handlers. Once fully trained and living with a family, they are not treated as pets since they are considered working dogs. They may live with a family, but they are picked up and taken to disaster sites where they will work with multiple handlers. According to Deb Baran, Director of Communications for the LCC K-9 Ministries, “T he ability to work with numerous people and not become overly attached to any one person is critical to their working success.” They have recently been deployed to El Paso and Dayton, working with the survivors, first responders, and families of the shooting victims in these locations. These dogs are trained to the same level or higher as a certified Therapy Dog, with the added requirement that they work well for multiple handlers. You can learn more about their program at https://www.lutheranchurchcharities.org/k-9-ministries1.html.

The various "Reading with Rover" programs (such as http://readingwithrover.com/) use Therapy Dogs as reading companions for children. Dogs in this program are typically a trained Therapy Dog or dogs that have earned an AKC Canine Good Citizen title. These programs encourage the child to relax and lower blood pressure. Reading aloud to a dog is far less intimidating than reading aloud to an adult (even though an adult is nearby to supervise the child-dog interaction). Children tend to focus better and forget their limitations when they are with a dog. These programs are proven to increase self-confidence and oral skills. It’s also a cost efficient and easy to implement program.


The terms Service or Assistance Dogs are interchangeable. A Service Dog is specifically trained to do work and/or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. You can read the Americans With Disabilities information booklet at https://adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet . These tasks can include pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to sounds, reminding the person to take medications, among other tasks. Some types of Service Dogs include:

  • Seeing Eye™ or Guide Dogs for the Blind™ that serve people with severe visual impairments or complete blindness.
  • Hearing or Signal Dogs that alert people with significant hearing loss or complete deafness when sounds occur, such as a knock on the door.
  • Mobility Assistance Dogs that brace to help people in and out of wheelchairs, assist with standing, pull wheelchairs for short distances, retrieve items, turn lights on and off, and other tasks of daily living for people with partial or full paralysis.
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs that are trained to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities to detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and lessen their effects. Tasks may include reminding the handler to take medications, providing safety checks or room searches, turning on lights for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD, common in veterans), interrupting self-mutilation by people with dissociative identity disorders, and keeping disoriented individuals from danger.
  • A Seizure Response Dog is trained to assist a person with a seizure disorder. How the dog serves the person depends on that person’s needs. The dog may stand guard over the person during the seizure or it may go in search of help. Some dogs are able to predict seizures and warn the handler in advance to sit down or move to a safe place. This ability to sense a seizure in advance was discovered in Chinooks in the early 1990s by Kathleen Riley with Mystic Banshee and Mystic Oketa. These two Chinooks visited the local Children's Hospital along with Riley's Labradors, and all the dogs were able to sense seizures at least 30-minutes before one occurred.
  • Other dogs can detect changes in a diabetic person's blood sugar levels, or heart rhythm problems. As a general rule, the ability to sense is shaped and cultivated from natural abilities. Frontier Luck of the Draw (Denali) was both a Mobility Assistance Dog and sensed changes in blood sugar for his human for many years until she passed away. Denali would alert Marie when her blood sugar levels were too high so that she could take her insulin. This alerting skill was even more valuable as Denali's owner aged and developed dementia.

An individual with disabilities is defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record or such impairments, or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment. Such impairments include but are not limited to those listed in Table 3.

Table 3. Impairments Classified as Disabilities
caring for oneself
performing manual tasks

The work or task performed by the Service Dog MUST be directly related to the individual’s disability. It doesn’t matter if the person has a note from a doctor stating that the person has a disability and needs the animal for emotional support. That doesn’t turn the dog into a Service Dog.

Because the handler relies on the Service Dog’s help, the dog is allowed to go most places that the handler does in public, even those that a pet dog cannot, like restaurants or in the cabin of an airplane. Two questions are allowed to be asked of a Service Dog Handler when they are frequenting public places:

  1. Is the animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task is the animal trained to perform?

There are limits. If the dog is behaving badly, it can be asked to leave. No one wants to hear a dog barking in the middle of a movie theater.

Assistance Dogs International (www.assistancedogsinternational.org) does provide accreditation for programs that train Service Dogs throughout the world (though there is no legal requirement for it). This allows people who need a Service Dog to search out legitimate programs in their area. Since the cost of a trained dog can be quite high, people need to be sure that they are getting one from a verified legitimate training facility. The Veterans Administration (VA) will cover the cost of a Service Dog for veterans, whether they were injured while in the service or not, but most other people have to raise the funds on their own.

Speaking of the VA, there is a recently completed a study on the use of Service Dogs for veterans with PTSD. The study found that dogs were of great value in the treatment and control of this sickness, and the VA now supports the cost of Service Dogs for vets with this issue.

In the Pacific Northwest, I’m familiar with two Service Dogs training facilities. Brigadoon Service Dogs of Bellingham, Washington and Summit Assistance Dogs of Anacortes, Washington. I recently donated Cree from my 2018 Heroes Litter to Brigadoon. He was eight months old when he started with them and he was dropped from the program after a little more than two months. They loved him and thought he had some wonderful skills that would have made him a great Service Dog, but he tended to panic over a few things – elevators and baths. He wasn’t the only dog to flunk out; two Standard Poodles and a rough Collie also were dropped at the same time. According to Denise Costanten, Founder and Director of Brigadoon, they drop 20% to 30% of the dogs that start training for some reason or another. If it’s pups that they breed, the number drops to about 10%. Almost all dropped dogs are quickly adopted by people who are fans of Brigadoon. I found statistics that cite as many as 70% of dogs that start training in Service Dogs programs nationwide fail to complete them for a variety of reasons; I cannot verify that this figure is accurate, but I’m not surprised by it. A new study using functional MRIs has found a way to identify dogs that will excel as Service Dogs, but it is still experimental and very expensive.

In the early 2000s I donated Frontier Rain Dancer Klickitat to Summit Assistance Dogs. She completed training there though they did not officially graduate and place her because of her tendency to put her hackles up so she could look big (a very Chinook trait) when she entered a new location. With the assistance of long-time Chinook owner Donna Boatwright, I privately placed her as a Service Dog with a woman named Florence who had Multiple Sclerosis, living in Maryland. Klickitat worked at her side for nearly ten years until Florence passed away. After that, Klickitat lived another two years with her family before crossing the Rainbow Bridge herself.

The facilities named above only train Service Dogs FOR you but there are some that will help you to train your own Service Dog. One such place was Paws-Abilities in Fife, Washington, a suburb of Tacoma. (Paws-Abilities has just closed so that the owner and head trainer, Dana Babb can finally retire after a long and stellar career.) Their belief was that by offering this program people who need a Service Dog are allowed to choose the type of dog they prefer rather than simply having one assigned to them, as long as it has the proper temperament. Their facility was recognized by Madigan Army / Air Force Medical Center, Department of Social & Health Services, and the Veterans Administration. They typically had about fifty dogs in their program and the dogs went through at least 100 to 120 hours of classes (and many more hours outside of class) before graduating. Their program included Autism, Diabetic Alert, PTSD, Seizure Alert, and Mobility Service Dogs.

According to Dana Babb, “Regardless of breed or mix, the best service dogs are handler-focused, desensitized to distractions, and highly trained to reliably perform specific tasks. They are not easily diverted from their tasks at home or in public and remain attentive and responsive to their owners while working.”


Emotional Support Dogs help individuals with emotional problems by providing comfort and support. A partial list of problems would include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, and other emotional disorders. (They should not be confused with Psychiatric Service Dogs.) A letter from your doctor or mental health provider is required to certify your pet as an Emotional Support Dog. They are protected by the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, which means that you are allowed to have them in housing that would otherwise not allow pets or would restrict the size, and you can take them on airlines for free.

However, and this is a BIG however, the Air Carrier Access Act is much abused. A quick online search will show you all kinds of places that will allow you to certify your pet as an Emotional Support Dog for a price. These certifications happen regardless of whether or not you have the actual letter from your doctor or mental health provider. That is what has led to us hearing about Emotional Support Peacocks and such traveling on airplanes. Some people certify show dogs as Emotional Support Dogs for travel purposes, so the dogs aren't traveling in the airplane cargo hold.


A federal proposal was announced on January 22, 2020 that would significantly limit the types of animals that could fly as Emotional Support Animals. Too many passengers have abused the privilege, bringing on board all types of untrained animals with documentation bought online from websites selling doctors’ certifications sight unseen.

This proposal would limit animals to dogs only. Passengers would have to fill out a government form certifying the animal has been trained specifically to assist them with a disability. Falsification of the form would be a crime, which the official said would serve as a deterrent. "Animals on aircraft may pose a risk to the safety, health, and well-being of passengers and crew and may disturb the safe and efficient operation of the aircraft," the proposal says. It cited data that show, "increases in the number of behavior-related service animal incidents on aircraft, including urinating, defecating, and biting."

There has been no action on this proposal since its announcement in January, probably due to the other problems the airline industry has been facing during the pandemic.

The difference between the need for an Emotional Support Dog and a Psychiatric Service Dog is in the degree of need. Having a mental illness like depression is an impairment that would warrant an Emotional Support Dog. But being unable to function on a minimal level daily because of mental illness is a disability that would possibly require a Psychiatric Service Dog. Only those disabled by mental illness would qualify for a Psychiatric Service Dog and it would be specially trained to perform tasks that mitigate the handler’s mental illness. Training your dog to kiss on command, to hug, or to jump in your lap is not the same as it being a Psychiatric Service Dog.

ALL OF US get a certain level of emotional support from our dogs. I know that during my years of constant medical problems and surgeries on my spinal cord, I would have been lost without my Chinooks. They were what made me get out of bed every day and keep going. When I was offered complete disability, I turned it down. I wanted to get back to my life full of dog activities and though it took a few years, I was able to do so. It was because of the dogs that I kept pursuing new treatments, kept exercising, and kept going in general. Without them it would have been far easier to stay on the couch. This last few years as age and other medical issues added to my spinal cord injury, the dogs became even more important. Sure, I had to rely on friends a few times, but I made sure that Taga was there at the house the minute I got home from the hospital.

My sister is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP, ARNP) of 39 years with several other credentials under her belt and her own counseling practice. She often prescribes Emotional Support Dogs or Cats to her patients since she herself is a strong believer in the healing powers of animals. She does this in writing so that there is a written record and so that her patients can have their pet in public housing without problems. Here is a link to a sample letter that is the first requirement. Other requirements for Emotional Support Dogs are:

  • The dog should be spayed or neutered.
  • They must perform specific tasks to aid in their handler’s disability; this support must alleviate some or at least one symptom of the disability.
  • The dog must be well behaved and under the handler’s control at all times. It must be calm and responsive to the handler’s commands.
  • It cannot cause harm or a disturbance when out in public or on an airplane.
  • The handler is required to clean up after the Emotional Service Dog and is still liable for any damage the dog causes even though damage deposits are waived under the Fair Housing Act.

Things that are NOT allowed in relation to Emotional Service Dogs include:

  • They are not allowed in stores or restaurants. In fact, Health Department regulations prohibit them in any establishment that serves food.
  • A landlord cannot ask for details about your medical condition; s/he can only ask to see the medical documentation stating that an Emotional Service Dog is required.
  • Breed Specific Legislation does not apply to Emotional Service Dogs; so, for example, if Chinooks were subject to the same breed bans that pit bulls and other bully breeds are, these bans wouldn’t apply if a Chinook were an Emotional Service Dog in public housing.

Emotional Support Dogs are not Service Dogs. Taking your dog out in public as a Service Dog, putting a Service Dog vest on the dog, or otherwise passing it off as a Service Dog is wrong. It MUST be required by a doctor or mental health practitioner in writing, and it MUST alleviate one or more symptoms of emotional impairment. The dog should have, at minimum, basic training.

I am adamantly against seeing Emotional Support Dogs in public. I was shocked when a fight broke out in the local Walmart between two supposed pit bull “Emotional Support Dogs” (quotations because they obviously weren’t) that was hell for anyone to break up and scared the beejeezus out of everyone in the store at the time. And as I’ve said, I know of too many falsely certified show dogs that are such simply so they can travel in the cabin to and from shows. There are just too many scams around Emotional Support Dogs that don’t exist with actual service Dogs or Therapy dogs because of their training requirements. I am in support of Emotional Support Dogs where they are best utilized – in the home where they can provide emotional support and comfort for people with problems. Both dogs and cats are wonderful for these situations, though I’m not too sure about turkeys and I’m darn sure that peacocks are not supportive of anything except themselves.

If you’d like more information on any of the topics here, please email GingerMCorley@gmail.com.

Link to recent CNN article on ESAs on airplanes

Ginger Corley is a writer for the high tech community and on the subject of dogs, winning awards for her technical work and from the Dog Writers Association of America. She has been breeding Chinooks – an American breed of sled dogs -- for over thirty years now under the Rain Mountain kennel name while working in the tech industry.

Kathleen Riley Daniels has been “in dogs” since God was a child. She presently lives in the Minneapolis suburbs with her husband Dave, Chinook Minnow (the AKC #1 Owner-Handled Chinook, Retired), and a Grand Champion Lab full of piss and vinegar known as Fluffy the Vampire. Kathleen has been writing about dogs for years and is a noted dog and horse photographer. As she says, her life is a dog and pony show.

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