Therapy and Service Dog Vest | Help Identify Your Working Dog

A dog vest is used for working dogs to help identify their working status. 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 working dog may be needed.

It also helps people identify service animals and emotional support animals, removing ambiguity from situations where there may otherwise be confusion.

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

Therapy Dogs vs. Emotional Support Dogs vs. Service Dogs

Therapy dogs, emotional support animals, and service dogs are different. While the terms are often used interchangeably, this is incorrect.

Emotional Support Animals

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a type of assistance animal that provides comfort and support to people with mental or emotional disabilities. ESAs do not need to be trained to perform specific tasks and are not necessarily service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), although people with ESAs are protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

Service Dogs

A service dog is trained to assist a specific individual 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.

Therapy Dogs

Meanwhile, therapy dogs are not considered service 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 up by the following: a therapy dog is an animal trained to interact with people besides its handler. Emotional support animals are for the comfort of their handler, to help with specific conditions. Service animals are only intended for their handler.

Is a Service 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. If you’re currently training a dog to be a service dog, you can have them wear a service dog in training vest, which can help people know that they shouldn’t interfere with your training or distract either of you.

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.

Wearing a vest can benefit an emotional support animal in several ways. Firstly, the vest clearly identifies the animal as an emotional support animal and can help to avoid confusion with pets or service animals. This can help to reduce the likelihood of the animal being denied access to public spaces or housing. 

Additionally, wearing a vest can help increase public awareness of emotional support animals and reduce the stigma associated with mental and emotional disabilities.

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 extensive training and are regulated by a federal agency. Consequently, they must stand out from therapy animals to reflect it.

It also enables the owner or manager to distinguish whether 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. The difference between a real service dog vest vs. a fake one really comes down to whether or not your support dog is properly trained for their role and whether you have any required diagnoses. 

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Service Dog Vest Features

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

What Size of Dog Is the Vest or Harness Designed For? 

While a dog vest is often adjustable, it still will only fit dogs within reason. For example, a St. Bernard will need a harness specifically built for large dogs. You also don’t want a dog vest to fit too loosely around smaller animals to avoid it falling off all the time.

How Does the Dog Vest Attach?

In addition to finding out if the harness is adjustable, 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 have reflective material on the vest. If you may be venturing outdoors with the animal during the early or late hours of the day, you should make sure that the vest is reflective.

How Does the Working 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 is on the premises. Unlike service animals, public places and other environments have the right to turn down an emotional support or therapy dog. It is why permission is required beforehand, and the identification helps provide an explanation.

Extra Service Dog 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 service dog vests feature pockets built into the sides of the vest. It allows for some simple storage.
  • Another example is a service dog harness with 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 their handler when first meeting strangers. 
  • A GPS tracker can be incredibly useful if you’re worried about your dog getting away from you (especially somewhere chaotic and dangerous, like a disaster scene). Having said this, service dogs and emotional support animals should be trained well enough not to run off. However, there are still occasions where your pet may get lost, so a GPS tracker can help in the worst-case scenario.
  • You can also get a leash, collar, or a collar tag that marks your dog as a therapy dog, emotional support animal, or service animal 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 things like collapsible water or food dishes, as well as potty bags, so you can always be sure your 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, consider what locations you and your dog will be visiting, what tasks they’ll be performing, and what their general needs are.

A Service Dog Vest Can Be a Useful Tool

While they aren’t legally required, 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, or housing complex that doesn’t usually allow pets. Plus, it can make it clear to those who may need support that a therapy dog is there to help them.

A dog vest can also be a useful tool for service animals. Wearing a vest can identify the animal as a working service animal and help to reduce confusion with pets or emotional support animals. This can help to ensure that the animal is granted access to public spaces and transportation, and that their handler receives the support they need. 

The vest can also serve as a visual cue for others to respect the animal’s working status and not distract or interfere with their duties. Overall, a dog vest can be a valuable tool for service animals and their handlers.

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!