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A Modern Service Dog Glossary

This site would not be complete without a service dog glossary . The service dog space can be so confusing for a lot of people, and there is good reason for that. There are so many different types of working dogs.

There are so many different laws and rules around animals depending on your location. And there are so many different disabilities; some visible, but many invisible.

Let’s try to work out some of this confusion with this easy to understand glossary of common working dog terms. Let’s get right into it.

  1. ADA
  2. Assistance Dog
  3. Companion Dog
  4. Courthouse Facility Dog
  5. Emotional Support Animal
  6. Facility Dog
  7. Guide Dog
  8. Hearing Dog
  9. Owner Trained Assistance Dog
  10. Public Access
  11. Response Service Dog
  12. Psychiatric Service Dog
  13. Puppy Raiser
  14. Service Dog
  15. Task
  16. Therapy Dog
service dog glossary
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ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act

he Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. It is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including:

  • Jobs
  • Schools
  • Transportation
  • All public and private places that are open to the general public

The purpose of the ADA law is to ensure people who are living with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination. Disability rights are civil rights. From voting to parking, the ADA is a law that protects people with disabilities in many areas of public life.


 “Assistance dog”a generic term for a guide dog, hearing dog, or service dog. These dogs are specifically trained to do “tasks” to mitigate the effects of a person’s disability.

Dogs that exist for protection work, personal defense, or comfort do not qualify as an assistance dog.

Assistance dogs are covered under many legislative access laws for public access rights. This is true as long as they’re with their disabled handler, or trainer (some places have coverage for service dogs in training , some don’t.)

Companion Dog

A companion dog is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a pet dog for someone at home.

Courthouse Facility Dog

Courthouse Facility Dogs are a certain type of working dog. They are trained to do specific, skilled tasks. They do these in a variety of different situations, and with a variety of different people.

They often work in courthouse or child advocacy centers. Their handlers are often professional people, who are knowledgeable about the practices of the justice system.

These people utilize facility dogs to help provide a calming influence on vulnerable people:

  • During the investigation and prosecution of crimes
  • Other stressful legal proceedings
  • Therapeutic responses to these experiences

Emotional Support Animal

An emotional support animal (ESA) a type of companion animal. These special animals are not service dogs .

They provide emotional or therapeutic support to someone with a mental health condition or emotional disorder. They help simply by being there.

Emotional support animals don’t receive the same training as assistance dogs. In fact, many emotional support animals are not trained at all.

Depending upon the country, emotional support animals may have different laws compared to service dogs regarding their public access privileges (or lack of privileges).

For example, in the U.S., ESAs don’t have the same right to public access as an assistance dog and its handler. But, they do have some rights for housing.

This is because the definition of Assistance Animal under the FHA or Fair Housing Act , is much more broad, and includes emotional support animals.

Read more:

Facility Dog

A facility dog is a specially trained dog that works with either a professional, or perhaps a volunteer in a residential or clinic setting. 

These special kinds of dogs are trained to do specific, skilled tasks in a bunch of different situations. These situations all occur within the facility environment with multiple clients.

The dog does more than just “be there.” The volunteer or professional handler is usually trained by a training program.

In some countries facility dogs do not have any public access rights. In other countries, public access may be permitted only when the facility dog and trained handler are working directly with a client with a disability.  

Guide Dog

A guide dog is just what it sounds like. A dog that guides. Most often, these special dogs guide people who are blind or visually impaired.

A dog whose purpose is mainly for protection, personal defense, or comfort does not qualify as a guide dog.

Hearing Dog

Hearing dogs are special dogs that alert their human who may be deaf or hard of hearing, or hard of hearing to certain sounds.

Dogs whose purpose is for protection, personal defense, or comfort do not qualify as a hearing dog.

Owner Trained Assistance Dog

Owner-trained assistance dog or owner-trained service dogs are trained by their owner.

Public Access

Public Access refers to the rights of people with disabilities to be accompanied by their assistance dog (or service dog) in all public places, places where the public is generally allowed or invited to go.

It’s good to note that public access is something that is granted to the person with the disability, not the actual dog itself.

Response Service Dog

Response service dogs are dogs that are trained to provide safety to someone who is experiencing or has just experienced some kind of a medical episode. One common example is a seizure.

Psychiatric Service Dog

Psychiatric service dogs are dogs that are trained to help lessen the effects of a mental health disability or condition.

Read more:

Puppy Raiser

You may have heard of puppy raisers when searching around at service dog organizations. A puppy raiser is a lucky person that gets to hang out with a cute puppy all the time.

They are usually appointed by a training program. Their “job” is to socialize and prepare a young puppy to enter formal training. This is usually a volunteer.

Volunteer puppy raisers receive a pup when they are approximately 8 weeks old, teach them good manners, and provide socialization experiences for about the first year and a half of the pups’ lives.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Service Dog

A service dog is a dog that works with people with disabilities other than blindness or deafness.

Service dogs are trained to perform a wide variety of tasks. Just a few examples are:

  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Bracing people
  • Retrieving various objects
  • Alerting someone to a medical crisis about to happen
  • Providing assistance in a medical crisis


Service dog tasks are trained behaviors that a service dog does on cue (or on command) to help lessen the effects or somehow help their partner’s disability.

The cue can be:

  • Verbal
  • A hand signal
  • Something in the environment
  • Some behavior exhibited by the partner or another person

One example of a verbal cue could be “take it.” A hand signal could be pointing at something to let the dog know they should retrieve it.

A cue in the environment could be:

  • A strap on a door
  • A car in the road
  • An alarm clock ringing
  • The behavior of a person could be falling to the ground
  • A hand shaking
  • Emitting odor of low blood sugar

Therapy Dog

A therapy dog is kind of like a social butterfly. It’s pet dog that has been trained to provide affection, comfort, and love to many different people. This happens in many different settings.

People that own therapy dog usually volunteer to bring their animals to different facilities.

Once inside, the team is welcomed to visit different people. Or, it’s possible that practitioners may use the dog in a professional setting.

Therapy dogs are not covered under the legislative public access laws. In other words, they do not have the same public access rights as service dogs with their handlers.


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Sam is an experienced writer, advocate for people with disabilities and mental health, dog lover, artist, philosopher, and generally complicated human being.

Service Dog Glossary

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