Therapy Dog Vest | Help Identify Your Therapy Animal

lab wearing therapy dog vest

A therapy dog vest is used for therapy dogs to help create identification. It helps let it be known their purpose when in a public setting such as a hospital, school, disaster scene, or other location where a therapy dog may be needed.

If you are new to therapy dog training, it is a good idea to get your animal properly identified when out in public. Before we get too deep into the best therapy dogs vests, let’s start with a brief overview.

Therapy Dogs vs. Service Dogs

Therapy dogs and service dogs are not the same thing. While the terms are often used interchangeably, this is actually incorrect.

A service dog is trained to assist a specific invidual who has a disability. For example, a person that is blind may receive a service dog in order to help them navigate the outdoors and remain safe, or a person with PTSD may have a service dog who helps ground them during flashbacks.

Service animals are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Individuals with disabilities are allowed to take service dogs into buildings, stores, restaurants, and on public transportation where they would otherwise not be allowed.

Meanwhile, therapy dogs are not considered servie dogs, and as such, are not allowed legal access to the aforementioned places without getting permission from the owner or supervisor of the establishment beforehand. While therapy dogs often receive specialized training, it is not as intense as the training for service dogs.

Why? Therapy dogs are not intended to assist someone with a disability and help them deal with everyday life. Instead, they are often granted access to schools, hospitals, disaster sites, and nursing homes because they help provide comfort and affection. At the end of the day, it is best summed by the following: a therapy dog is an animal trained to interact with people besides its handler. Service animals are only intended for their handler.

Is a Therapy Dog Vest Legally Required

If you have noticed a dog in a public setting that would not otherwise allow animals, you probably noticed that the animal was distinctively labeled. Vests for service animals are usually brightly colored and help provide a quick explanation as to the purpose of the animal. While these are not legally required, they can help avoid conflicts with business owners, and can also make it clear to people in public that they shouldn’t distract or try to pet the dog.

A therapy dog also does not legally require a vest, though many people choose to have them wear them for similar reasons. It can make it clear to anyone at a location that the animal has been granted clearance, and that they are there to help others.

Does a Therapy Dog Have a Different Vest Than a Service Dog?

A vest for a service dog can differ from a traditional vest. It often includes important information regarding the animal (i.e. “please do not pet.”) Service animals must undergo some extensive training and are regulated by a federal agency. Consequently, they must stand out from therapy animals in order to reflect it.

It also enables the owner or manager to distinguish between if the animal is there for emotional support, or fulfills a direct service that the individual with the disability would not be allowed to do alone.

Therapy dogs usually wear a simple vest or bandanna that is inscribed with the name of the organization that granted the animal certification. They may also wear an unmarked but brightly colored vest, or a vest that reads “therapy dog” or “working dog.”

If the dog has been trained to be a service dog in addition to a therapy dog, or if the animal has been registered as an emotional support dog, you may choose to have them wear a “service dog” or “emotional support animal” vest. However, this should only be done if the dog has been legally verified as a service or emotional support dog, since there’s a chance you could be fined for falsely claiming your dog is a service animal or emotional support dog.

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Therapy Dog Vest Features

The organization that certifies a therapy animal can help inform you on where to get a vest. Some may even offer them in-house. Of course, you can always browse online. Yet if you are new handling a therapy dog how do you know what to look for?

  • What size of dog is the vest or harness designed for? While a therapy vest is often adjustable, it still will only fit dogs within reason. For example, a St. Bernard is obviously going to need a harness specifically built for large dogs. You also don’t want a dog vest to fit too loosely around smaller therapy animals in order to avoid it falling off all of the time.
  • How does the dog vest attach? In addition to finding out if the harness is adjustable or not also check for the quality of the strap. Some are a buckle strap while others are Velcro.
  • Is the vest reflective? The answer to this question is more than likely. However, some really cheap dog vests may not having reflective material on the vest. If you be venturing outdoors with the animal during the early or late hours of the day you should make sure that it is reflective.
  • How does the vest identify the animal? Therapy dog vests need to have some type of identification in order to inform the establishment as to why the animal in on premise. Unlike service animals, public places and other environments have the right to turn down a therapy dog. It is why permission is required beforehand and the identification helps provide an explanation.

Extra Accessories to Consider

There aren’t a lot of added luxuries when it comes to dog harnesses or vests. They’re all fairly straightforward, particularly for dogs trained for therapy work. However, you can still find a few cool options on certain brands.

  • For example, some therapy dog vests feature pockets built into the sides of the vest. It allows for some simple storage.
  • Another example are harnesses that have a handle built into the top of the vest. It allows the handler to get a hold of the pet for control purposes. It is a nice feature for therapy dogs that may need a little coaxing or support from its handler when first meetings strangers.
  • If you’re worried about your dog getting away from you (especially somehwere chaotic and dangerous, like a disaster scene), a GPS tracker can be incredibly useful.
  • You can also get a leash, collar, or a collar tag that marks your dog as a therapy dog to help make identification even easier.
  • You may also want to consider things like a treat bag you can wear so that you can easily offer your pups rewards while you’re out, or likes like collapsible water or food dishes, as well as potty bags, so you can always be sure your therapy dog is comfortable and cared for when out and about. You can also consider something like this travel set that includes nearly everything you need to head out on adventures with your therapy dog!

To decide what kind of accessories you may need, think about what kind of locations you and your dog will be visiting, what tasks they’ll be performing, and what their general needs are.

A Therapy Vest Can Be a Useful Tool

While they aren’t legally required, therapy dog vests can be incredibly useful tools. They can help your dog be quickly identified as a working dog, so it’ll be understood why they’re in an unusual setting, like a hospital. Plus, it can make it clear to those who may need support that the dog is there to help them.

Choosing the right therapy vest can help make sure your dog does their therapy work easily, and extra accessories, like GPS trackers or treat bags, can help them out even more!