Can a service dog be a therapy dog?

This service dog was taught to take things in his mouth, not something we want therapy dogs to do

This service dog was taught to take things in his mouth, not something we want therapy dogs to do

We all understand that Therapy dogs are not Service dogs and not afforded full public access as outlined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (modified March 2011). Nor are Emotional Support, Comfort or Companion animals.

But can a documented service dog also perform as a therapy dog?

It can.

But it is rare and takes the very steady and talented dog to do both jobs. The service dog must mitigate the disability of its owner in order to qualify as a documented service dog. Thus the dog must always be on the “Job” and his focus must be on his owner not other people. He can never drop his guard from the task at hand.  However some tasks the service dog performs allows for times to be with other people and they can integrate and do both.

For instance a “Leaning or Balance” service dog can be seated with his handler for visits so the instance of the dog having to steady his owner would not be of issue.

Delta Pet Partners does include service dogs and they can be tested with the equipment they normally use to work, as long as it is not included in the Unacceptable list (I.e. metal, prong collars, electric or spray collars, full-slip collars of any type, retractable leashes, leashes longer than six feet in length, leashes with any amount of metal chain, Martingales with metal links.)

 Even though not listed in Delta’s equipment list, service dogs’ special harnesses may include metal components in the structure or handle, as long as the harness is safe to the Evaluator and ultimately the public.

The safety of the population being visited is the top priority. In some instances, a service dog’s response during a test exercise might be appropriate for his role as a service dog, but not a desirable response for AAT/AAA (animal-assisted therapy / animal-assisted activity).  For example, a dog that is trained to help its handler reposition his or her arm should it fall off the armrest of a wheelchair may do so if needed during evaluation. The Evaluator would be able to waive the requirement that the dog not mouth the handler in this instance. All responses are noted in the evaluation. So for example if the dog mouths the Evaluator when she picks up his foot for examination, it would be scored “Not Appropriate for Visiting” or “Not Ready” and given time to work on this behavior. If the response is so automatic and critical to the handler’s safety, then perhaps this is not a dog that can perform the dual role as service dog and therapy dog.

If the dog has been taught to pick up objects for his owner, but picks up other objects on the floor not in response to a command, then it is not appropriate for therapy work.

If the dog is permitted to jump up on the owner’s lap to assist with a task but jumps on anyone else’s lap, he is not suitable as a therapy dog.

If the dog’s job is to lead his owner up ramps or stairs and has been taught to walk a few paces in front of his owner and pull a bit, then it would not be exhibiting loose leash walking in the heel position.

It is important the handler identify any and all of these instances with the Evaluator before the test is begun to determine if any behavior the dog has been taught to do in response to his handler would interfere with his job as an interactive therapy dog or the safety of his owner or the public. If the person is prone to seizures for example, the dog must be on high alert at all times in order to do his job and cannot lessen his concentration on his owner to be engaged with other people to the degree we require of therapy dogs.

So yes a service dog can be a therapy dog but it is the very unique animal that can serve both purposes.