Emotional support animals
Simply put, an emotional support dog (or animal) (ESA) represents a companion that provides therapeutic benefit to the owner. An ESA requires no specific training or testing, it is simply the presence of that animal which provides comfort and support to the owner.
There are some key differences in places such as the US and the UK, where emotional support dogs are allowed to fly in cabin with their owners or allowed into accommodation which otherwise has a ‘no pets allowed’ policy. However, an ESA is not a service animal, and as such has more limited public access rights.
These dogs are often household companions who accompany owners to various places to bring comfort and affection to others. This may be visiting the elderly in a home, or children in a hospital ward, or (as we do here in Phuket) helping kids in school to develop their reading skills.
Due to legal and liability issues, most establishments will not allow therapy dogs on site unless they have been assessed and certified. Canine Point Academy is the only accredited American Kennel Club (AKC) assessor in Thailand able to assess and certify therapy dogs.
It’s worth noting that therapy dogs are not service dogs either, and therefore do not enjoy any legal protections, nor do they have rights of access to public establishments or transport.
The marked difference with service dogs is that they are not a pet; they are highly-trained dogs that have been taught to help with specific documented disabilities. Guide dogs are good examples of service dogs, but dogs have also been trained to help the hearing impaired, or help sufferers of PTSD, or alert a diabetic to changing blood sugar levels. Service dogs are usually also able to provide certain functions, such as pushing buttons, opening doors, picking up objects or alerting others when their owner is unresponsive.
Such dogs need to be really calm and both physiologically and psychologically sound with a great temperament. And whilst historically we have seen German shepherds, labradors and golden retrievers being predominantly used in assistance work, these days there is quite the range of dogs being used in such a way.
Depending on location, a service dog is usually legally able to accompany their handler wherever they go. This includes shops, restaurants and any other building open to the general public. However, a handler can be asked to remove their dog if they are acting badly or posing a direct threat to someone in the environment.
A service dog is not required to wear a vest, special tags or a collar. They do not need a special harness or an ID card. However, most handlers choose to equip their dogs to keep challenges regarding public access to a minimum.
No matter which type of working dog you encounter, never interact with them without the handler’s express permission. Please do not be offended if the handler asks you not to talk to or pet their dogs; service dogs in particular have a job to do and shouldn’t have their attention diverted from their work.
CPA is the only K9 organisation in Thailand accredited with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), and as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Evaluator.