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Categories of Working, Assistance, and Therapy Dogs

It is helpful for practitioners to define working and service dogs according to their specialized function or work environment, as follows:

  • Working dogs, further categorized as detection or protection animals. As the name implies, working dogs are trained to accomplish specific, defined tasks.
  • Assistance dogs, categorized as either service dogs or emotional support dogs. Assistance dogs help persons with a diagnosed psychological or physical limitation who benefit from interaction with the dog. Service dogs have a specific job to accomplish, whereas an emotional support dog does not have a specific job but provides support by their presence alone.
  • Therapy dogs perform either animal-assisted activities (AAA) or animal-assisted therapy (AAT). AAA dogs have been described as “happiness delivery” animals, performing duties such as hospital visits and de-stressing interactions with people. AAT dogs provide goal-directed therapy, often directed by a healthcare professional such as an occupational therapist or psychologist.
Working Dogs Assistance Dogs Therapy Dogs
Trained to accomplish specific, defined tasks Help persons with a diagnosed psychological or physical limitation who benefit from interaction with a dog Perform either animal-assisted activities (AAA) or animal-assisted therapy (AAT)
Categories of working dogs Categories of assistance dogs Categories of therapy dogs
  • Protection dogs, such as police, military, and security dogs are trained to alert and deter human or animal threats.
  • Detection dogs are trained to sniff out specific scents, including plant, animal, human, and mandmade odors.
  • Service dogs have a specific job to accomplish.
  • Emotional support dogs have no specific job, but provide support by their presence alone.
  • AAA dogs have been described as “happiness-delivery” animals, performing duties such as hospital visits and de-stressing interactions with people.
  • AAT dogs provide goal-directed therapy, often under the supervision of a professional such as an occupational therapist or psychologist.

These guidelines are supported by generous educational grants from the AAHA Foundation,
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc., CareCredit, Merck Animal Health, and Zoetis.

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