Dogs in Supportive Roles


service_dogWhat is a Service Dog? Service Dogs are individually trained to perform tasks and do work that mitigates their handlers’ disabilities.  Service dogs are much more than highly trained companions. Working as part of a team with their disabled partners, service dogs help them attain the safety and independence from which their handlers’ disabilities would otherwise limit them.  Service Dogs are welcome in any public place (even where dogs aren’t allowed).

What does service dog training require?

  • Amount of Schooling:  An assistance dog should be given a minimum of 120 hours of schooling over a period of 6 months or more. At least 30 hours should be devoted to outings that will prepare the dog to work obediently and unobtrusively in public places.
  • Obedience Training:  A dog must master the basic obedience skills (sit, stay, come, down, heel) and a dropped leash recall in a store in response to verbal commands and/or hand signals.
  • Manners: A dog must acquire proper social behavior skills.
  • Disability Related Tasks:  The dog must be individually trained to perform identifiable tasks on command or cue for the benefit of the disabled human partner. This includes alerting to sounds, medical problems, certain scents like peanuts or situations if training is involved.
  • Prohibited Training:  Any training that arouses a dog’s prey drive or fear to elicit a display of aggression for guard or defense purposes is strictly prohibited. Non-aggressive barking as a trained behavior is permitted in appropriate situations.  
  • A Trainer’s Responsibilities:  Trainers function as ambassadors for the assistance dog movement. This includes a disabled owner trainer, a provider’s staff or a volunteer with a puppy or adult dog “in training.” It also includes an assistance dog partner or able bodied facilitator helping a disabled loved one to keep up an assistance dog’s training.

Service Animal Resources


What is an Emotional Support Animal? Emotional Support Animals are not required to undergo specialized training and do not have public access rights.  Their primary roles are to provide their disabled owners with emotional comfort.  Emotional Support Animals can benefit a disabled individual psychologically.  The seemingly basic gift of companionship and unconditional affection can be just the right therapy to counter a condition like debilitating depression.  Emotional Support Animals can have special privileges, so we recommend inquiring about the location’s policies.

State and federal fair housing laws require that housing providers make reasonable accommodations for tenants with Emotional Support Animals. Emotional Support Animals are also covered by the Air Carrier Access Act. A letter from a healthcare provider is required in order to have an Emotional Support Animal. San Diego Humane Society does not certify Emotional Support Animals, as certification is not required.

Emotional Support Animal Resources


thearpy_dogWhat is a Therapy Dog? Therapy Dogs also receive extensive training but have a completely different type of job from service dogs. Their responsibilities are to provide psychological or physiological therapy to individuals other than their handlers, who are usually their owners.  These dogs have stable temperaments and friendly, easy-going personalities. Typically, they visit various institutions like hospitals, schools, hospices, psychotherapy offices, nursing homes and more.  Unlike service dogs, Therapy Dogs are encouraged to socialize and interact with a variety of people while they’re on-duty.  Therapy Dogs are only allowed to go where other dogs are allowed, or may be invited to visit facilities that do not otherwise permit dogs.

What does Therapy Dog certification require? There is no recognized Therapy Dog certification. However, each organization defines its own criteria. San Diego Humane Society certifies Canine Ambassador volunteers that participate in our Pet-Assisted Therapy program and other community events.

San Diego Humane Society’s Pet Assisted Therapy Program requires: 

  • Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification
  • Humans must be 21 years of age or older
  • Dogs must be more than 1 year old
  • Dog must be healthy and visits the veterinarian annually
  • Dog must be spayed or neutered
  • Dog must be licensed and up-to-date on vaccinations
  • Dog must get along with rats, rabbits and guinea pigs
  • Dogs cannot be on a raw meat diet

CGC training does not guarantee that your dog will join our program. Because we have small animals as part of our program, dogs need to be okay with them in their presence. We will also accept CGC from anyone who is licensed to offer it. We only certify therapy dogs for those who become volunteers with us.

The CGC test for dogs to join our program:

  • We teach the CGC test for dogs to join our program at both campuses
  • Most PetSmart and Petco stores that have training departments will teach the CGC
  • If you are already working with a trainer, ask if they are certified to give the CGC certificate, which is administered by the AKC

Who Offers Pet Therapy Programs? If you would like to have your dog certified for therapy elsewhere, contact the following organizations directly to see what the requirements are:

If you have additional questions, please contact Laura Leonard – [email protected].