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What is a Service Dog?

In Canada, Service Dogs are dogs that have been specifically trained to perform task(s) or alerts that mitigate the symptoms of a person with a disability. Service Dogs can be trained to help in a large number of ways. They can help a person with a vision or hearing impairment navigate the world or help alert a person to a medical issue, or help with physical mobility.  Dogs who work with the vision-impaired or hearing impaired are usually called Guide Dogs or Hearing Dogs, but Service Dog laws apply to them, and sometimes they have extra laws made just for them as well.  

In order to obtain a Service Dog, an individual with a disability must receive documentation that their symptoms qualify as a disability. As with any other intervention, it is vital that the prescriber determine that a Service Dog is an appropriate treatment approach and method of supplying the
intervention to minimize the risk of harm to the patient, the service dog and to the public.

While a Service Dog can be a significant benefit to many people, some may find the benefits of having a Service Dog are outweighed by the ongoing maintenance, training and daily life challenges involved in owning a dog who is working in public.  A Service Dog is a commitment that may not be the best treatment approach for some people. Maintaining training and a home and work environment that allows the service dog to remain healthy can be challenging for some. Some disabilities may make it difficult to provide the stability and structure every dog requires to lead a healthy life.

In these cases a visiting Therapy Dog may be an alternative approach.

In Canada, a dog is not a Service Dog if:
they are present for protection
they are present for personal defence
they are Therapy Dogs
they are Facility Dogs (Therapy dogs who work in a specific workplace)
they are present for emotional comfort (Emotional Support Animal is not a recognized designation in Canada)
FTK9 Service Dogs are carefully matched with a Handler's needs
they are working dog (for example, police dogs, search and rescue dogs, hunting dogs, farm dogs or cadaver dogs)
In Canada, Therapy dogs can:
enter facilities where they are permitted or invited
be a well trained pet, or a highly trained working dog; there are no standards
provide a variety of services depending on their training
work in schools, daycares, and other academic settings
work in professional settings such as court rooms, law offices, and mental and physical health practices
be trained to work for a specific workplace and all who are present, like a police station or physical rehabilitation practice
they are working dog (for example, police dogs, search and rescue dogs, hunting dogs, farm dogs or cadaver dogs)

What is a Therapy Dog?

In Canada, Therapy Dogs are generally differentiated from Service Dogs by who they serve. While a Service Dog is trained to specifically mitigate the disability of their Handler, a Therapy Dog is trained to help many people who are not their Handler. 

Therapy Dogs have limited recognition in laws, in part because Therapy Dogs are still comparatively new in practice, with a couple decades of use and study, while Service Dogs have been a proven therapeutic intervention for over 100 years.

In general, Therapy Dogs in Canada are currently trained to a broad range of standards and have no cohesive certifying or guiding organizations. Therapy Dog training standards can range from simply training obedience skills, to more complex skills and tasks that match the skills of Service Dogs.

Therapy Dogs trained to the advanced level standards found in Europe and the UK often include skills in Animal Assisted Play Therapy, scent-based stress responses, physical rehabilitation skills and advanced social skills.

Facility Dogs are Therapy dogs that are trained specifically to provide service in one workplace. Their training is tailored to meet the needs of the workers, or their clients in that workplace. Facility Dogs may find work in dentist offices, physical therapy practices, 911 operations facilities, fire stations, police stations, schools, court rooms, and mental health services.

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