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Top 10 Myths About Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

The use of Assistance Animals can be a great help to those with various disabilities, but some people still don’t fully understand everything about them. Here we will debunk the 10 most common myths about Assistance Animals. We have also included links to helpful articles throughout this page that includes more information.

  1. Myth #1 – Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals, and Therapy Dogs are the same

This is absolutely not true! While each serves similar purposes – which is to aid the well-being of their owner in some way – Service Dogs, Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Dogs are used for very different forms of therapy and have different rights in the eye of the law.

  • Service Dogs are specifically trained to perform tasks that aid their owners’ disabilities, allowing them to live an independent lifestyle.
  • Emotional Support Animals can be any animal that is used to provide their owner with emotional comfort and do not require special training.
  • Therapy Dogs are often found in establishments where various forms of therapy are applied – ranging from care homes to physical rehabilitation centers. Their roles can vary significantly, from aiding a child to confidently read out loud from a book to assist those requiring physical therapy. A Therapy Dog is basically an ESA that helps a lot of people and not just their handlers. Unfortunately, therapy dogs do not enjoy the legal protection that the other assistance animals have.
  1. Myth #2 – Emotional Support Animals can come with me into hotels, restaurants, and markets

No – only ADA accredited Service Dogs may accompany their owners into public areas, as they will have been adequately trained and certified to behave appropriately, and are deemed a necessity for their owners. However, there are some exceptions. When adequate documentation has been presented, Emotional Support Animals are allowed to live with their owners, even in pet-free buildings, and travel with them in the cabin of airlines with ESA programs. Only animals that have received a Service Dog Certification are automatically granted public access rights.

  1. Myth #3 – Service Dogs must wear a vest

Contrary to popular belief, it is not a legal requirement for Service Dogs to wear a vest. However, many Service Dog owners choose to have them wear a vest to avoid any unnecessary hassle.

  1. Myth #4 – You need a doctor’s note for your Service Dog

A doctor’s note is not necessary for a Service Dog. When entering public establishments, it is only necessary to verbally inform staff of your Service Dog – if they ask. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states they may only ask 2 questions:

  • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Service Dog owners may choose (though are not required) to order an ID card, as these can make the identification process much smoother. Rather than have to explain a disability, which can cause embarrassment, presenting an ID card can instantly verify the Service Dog. Emotional Support Animals, however, do require an ESA letter from a licensed therapist.

  1. Myth #5 – It is illegal to qualify for an ESA letter online

Wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. Telehealth – a collection of means for enhancing the education and care of a patient – encourages online applications for ESA letters. Rules vary from state to state when obtaining an ESA letter. By using an accredited online organization that follow your state’s telehealth service laws, you can be sure you are abiding by your state’s relevant laws. 

  1. Myth #6 – All ESA letter referral sites are the same

No. There is a broad range of referral sites ranging from mental health professionals who offer the provision of ESA letters as a part of their service, to dedicated single therapist letter mills. It is highly recommended to conduct as much independent research before choosing an ESA letter referral company, as you need to be certain the vendor is genuine and abides by your state’s rules.

  1. Myth #7 – Each state has different Service Dog laws

No. Service Dogs are protected by federal law under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). However, Service Dog are subject to certain state-specific regulations. For example, Connecticut law recommends Service Dogs only access public areas with their owner while wearing a harness or an orange-colored collar and leash. 

  1. Myth #8 – A landlord can reject an ESA or Service Dog if they do not feel the tenant has a disability or needs an ESA

Under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), landlords are permitted to accept tenants with an Emotional Support Animal, regardless of any pet-free policies they may have in place. If a landlord does not accept your ESA, you should file a claim with HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development). They will assist you with each step of your claim.

  1. Myth #9 – Service Dogs are only for the blind and people in wheelchairs, all other service dogs are fake

While guiding and pulling are perhaps the most well-known tasks performed by Service Dogs, they perform a variety of other specific tasks to aid a disability of any form. It’s not just physical disabilities that Service Dogs can be used for, but mental disabilities, too. Here are some examples:

  • Visual impairment/blindness
  • Hearing Impairments
  • Mental illnesses such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or chronic depression
  • Seizure disorder
  • Mobility impairment
  • Diabetes
  1. Myth #10 – Therapy dogs have the same access rights as ESA or Service Dogs

No. Therapy Dogs must be granted access by prior agreement to certain establishments such as hospitals, libraries, and skilled nursing facilities. While Service Dogs are legally permitted to accompany their owners in all public areas, and Emotional Support Animals are protected in certain areas such as housing and travel, Therapy Dogs do not benefit from similar access rights.

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About the Author: The writing team at Service Dog Certifications is made up of folks who really know their stuff when it comes to disability laws and assistance animals. Many of our writers and editors have service dogs themselves and share insights from their own experiences. All of us have a passion for disability rights and animals.


    • Megan says: May 4, 2019
    • Patty Galindo says: June 17, 2019
    • LKent says: October 10, 2019
    • Antionette Cecil says: November 17, 2019
      • Summer says: December 3, 2019
      • Hennessy says: December 7, 2019
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    • Really? says: June 14, 2019
  1. lilly says: April 23, 2019
    • Megan says: May 4, 2019
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    • PaTricia Strong says: May 25, 2020
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