Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and have different roles, though comfort dogs may not be a support animal you have heard of before. Comfort dogs are a type of therapy dog that is typically utilized to provide comfort to individuals who have experienced a traumatic or tragic event. They are generally categorized as support animals and thus have different legal protections.
Our article aims to help you understand more about comfort dogs and the benefits that they can provide to those in need. We also answer your questions about other types of service dogs and expand on the legal protections that your comfort dog might be granted.
Different Types of Service Dogs
There are a few different types of service dogs, and it helps to understand the differences between them if you want to know what sets them apart and the unique tasks they can help their owners with. Below, we give you an overview of the most common types of service dogs you will encounter.
Psychiatric Service Dogs
Psychiatric service dogs are most commonly referred to as ‘therapy dogs.’ These pups are specially trained to complete tasks and provide comfort to soothe the symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, or autism.
Psychiatric service dogs are trained to complete tasks such as inspecting rooms and homes, helping owners differentiate between hallucinations and reality, interrupting harmful behaviors, and providing deep pressure therapy or comfort as needed.
Mobility Service Dogs
Mobility service dogs are those dogs that help individuals navigate their daily life. They complete tasks for those who might be in wheelchairs or otherwise mobility-challenged. They are often trained to do helpful things like retrieve items or medication, turn lights on and off, open and close doors or cabinets, and support their owner as they move from location to location. Mobility dogs may also be seeing eye dogs for those who are visually impaired.
Medical Alert Service Dogs
A medical alert service dog is trained to alert their handler to changes in their medical condition, such as changes in blood sugar or blood pressure. Medical alert dogs may also be trained to indicate the onset of a seizure, fainting spell, or a heart rate or blood pressure issue. They can provide a space to lie down on the ground and support their handler if the incident occurs publicly. Additionally, they can guide their owner to a safe location, such as a bench or bed. Medical alert dogs also retrieve medication and water for their owners and know how to alert for help from outsiders.
Emotional Support Animals
Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals (ESAs) provide comfort and a therapeutic presence but aren’t trained to complete specific service tasks for an individual. Those with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression might benefit from the presence of an emotional support animal in their life. However, it’s important to note that if the animal isn’t specifically trained to help relieve certain symptoms of a disability, then they aren’t legally counted as a service dog.
ESA vs. Service Dog Rights
Emotional support animals and service dogs have different public access rights. While emotional support animals are generally permitted in most living spaces, even those that don’t typically allow pets and can sometimes travel with their owners, service dogs have full public access rights.
The ADA states that service dogs are to be permitted access wherever their owner goes, including spaces like restaurants, coffee shops, and otherwise animal-free areas. You can read more about specific service dog rights here.
What Makes a Comfort Dog Different
A comfort dog is a type of therapy dog, but they are not trained to complete specific tasks to counteract a disability as a psychiatric service dog would be. Instead, they provide comfort and support to individuals that have suffered an unfortunate occurrence or traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, sudden medical issues, or an unexpected loss.
The only task of a comfort dog in this situation is to spend time with the person in need and comfort them by simply being a calming, friendly, and loving presence. This task is supported by scientific studies that show the presence of therapy and comfort dogs have a positive result on patients in need.
Because comfort dogs are tasked with calming and soothing people who have suffered traumatic events, they must be calm, obedient, and gentle. A little bit of playfulness isn’t a bad thing, but the dog must be under the control of their handler and listen to commands well for both the safety of the dog and the person they are visiting.
Additionally, comfort dogs that are quiet, confident, and love to cuddle or be touched by humans are most suited to this type of work.
The Tasks Comfort Dogs Complete
Comfort dogs may complete several different tasks to help patients feel better, and they may need to understand several different commands that allow handlers to better direct their loving energy. Below is an example of the tasks you may expect a comfort dog to complete.
- Participating in animal-assisted therapy, which includes being groomed, pet, and played with
- Providing comfort and support by cuddling or simply acting as a calming presence
- Staying calm and patient in loud or noisy environments
- Listening to their handler when it comes to basic obedience tasks like sitting, staying, and waiting
- Guiding patients or providing deep pressure therapy as necessary
- Redirecting focus from unwanted behaviors by bringing patients toys and brushes so that they interact with the dog instead
- Providing a care routine and something to look forward to with regular visits to a medical center or another treatment facility
- Cuddling with patients, guiding individuals to safety, and taking a well-deserved nap with the individuals they are comforting
Of course, all comfort dogs are different, and different tasks may be necessary for your comfort dog to learn. This isn’t a complete list, but keep in mind your comfort dog should have basic obedience skills and public manners in order to thrive both inside and outside of their work.
Are Comfort Dogs Protected by the ADA?
As we mentioned above, comfort dogs are generally counted as a type of emotional support animal, and the ADA does not protect them. However, if your comfort dog is more strictly trained to fall into the category of a therapy dog that completes certain tasks for those suffering from disabilities, they will be protected by the ADA.
Make sure you understand the difference between service dogs and ESAs and that you are properly categorizing your comfort dog before you attempt to enter public places or request living accommodations for them.
Frequently Asked Questions About Comfort Dogs
There is a lot to know about comfort dogs; below is a list of the most commonly asked questions about them.
Can You Train Your Dog to Be a Comfort Dog?
It is possible to train your dog to be a comfort dog. You may do this if you are interested in volunteering with your dog at local hospitals or therapy centers so that others may benefit from your dog’s calming presence.
If you want to train your dog to be a comfort dog, they will first have to understand basic obedience commands. Make sure your pup is well-socialized, handles all types of new environments and people well, and is generally calm, loving, and gentle.
Keep in mind that your dog won’t need to be as strictly trained as a psychiatric service dog would be if they are just providing comfort, but they will need public manners and the ability to listen to your commands in any situation.
Do Comfort Dogs Need Certification?
Comfort dogs don’t need a certification – not even service dogs need to have an official certification or identifying materials on them – but a certification can make things easier when it comes to obtaining emotional support animal rights.
If you are interested in taking your comfort dog into hospitals and therapy centers, you may want to look into training programs that will provide you with a certificate or consult with a medical professional that can write you an emotional support animal verification letter. This allows you to remain confident as you register your comfort dog with therapy organizations or landlords, and rental agencies. More information on obtaining an ESA letter can be found here.
While certification isn’t necessary, if you plan to take your comfort dog to public places and have them interact with others, you should look into having them take the public access test (PAT) and canine good citizen (CGC) test. Passing both of these tests can help hospitals or facilities ensure that your dog is safe for patients or clients to be around.
Are Certain Breeds Suited to Being Comfort Dogs?
While any dog can be a comfort dog, certain dog breeds are more suited to this work than others, meaning they have a calmer demeanor, and comfort skills come more naturally to them. Breeds such as golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and poodles all make great comfort dogs, as do poodle mixes and golden retriever mixes. That being said, the breed isn’t as important in a comfort dog as is the ability to be calm, gentle, social, and obedient.
Where Can You Adopt a Comfort Dog?
If you want to adopt a comfort dog for yourself or to train for others, you can look through local rescues and shelters for the perfect pup. You don’t need a specific breed of dog to have a comfort dog; you will just need an animal that is loving, calm, and friendly with other people. Reach out to local organizations that might be able to point you in the right direction to finding the best pup suited for this job.
Can You Travel With Your Comfort Dog?
You will most likely be able to travel with your comfort dog; however, they are often classified as regular pets when traveling, unlike service dogs, which typically have special accommodations.
To travel with your comfort dog, you will most likely need to register your comfort dog with an airline or hotel ahead of time so that they know you are bringing your pup with you and can make the proper arrangements and inform you of their protocol. If you have more questions about your comfort dog’s rights, you can read these articles about ESAs and their public access rights.
Keeping Your Comfort Dog With You
Whether you have a comfort dog because you need their therapeutic assistance or you’ve trained your pup to be a working comfort dog and help others through traumatic events, it’s important that your canine companion stays with you whenever possible. Making sure that your comfort dog has the same rights as an ESA involves obtaining proper ESA certification when applicable and ensuring that they are well-behaved enough to complete their comfort dog tasks.
Any dog has the potential to be a comfort dog with the right combination of temperament and training, and comfort dogs are helpful in a number of scenarios. If you think owning a comfort dog is for you, look through shelters and rescues to find an adoptable pup suited to this task.