Animals That Can Be Trained as Service Animals

While most are dogs, other animals can fill the role

What types of animals can be service animals? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a specific definition for service animal, but the variety of animals that can be trained to assist those with disabilities can include a broader range of animals.

Man in wheelchair with a service dog in the park
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ADA Definition of Service Animal

The Americans with Disabilities Act's final regulations for title II (State and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) clarify and refine issues that have arisen over the past 20 years and contain new, and updated, requirements.

The rule defines "service animal" as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The rule states that other animals, whether wild or domestic, do not qualify as service animals. Dogs that are not trained to perform tasks that mitigate the effects of a disability, including dogs that are used purely for emotional support, are not service animals.

The final rule also clarifies that individuals with mental disabilities who use service animals that are trained to perform a specific task are protected by the ADA. The rule permits the use of trained miniature horses as alternatives to dogs, subject to certain limitations. To allow flexibility in situations where using a horse would not be appropriate, the final rule does not include miniature horses in the definition of "service animal."

Other Animals Trained as Service Animals

There are many types of animals that are trained to assist those with disabilities. For example, Capuchin monkeys have been trained to help paralyzed individuals perform daily tasks and to be companions for their handlers. The organization Helping Hands has been training and pairing monkey helpers with those in need since 1979.

For some patients with psychiatric disorders, dogs are great service animals, but they are not alone in this task. Other animals that have been trained to help include parrots, ferrets, and even ducks.

Differences Between Emotional Support Animals, Therapy Animals, and Service Animals

There is a defined difference between a service animal and emotional support animals or therapy animals.

Service animals, and more specifically service dogs, are highly trained assistants with specific jobs to help their companions. Service animals are covered by the ADA, and so are afforded special consideration along with their handlers with regard to access and accommodation.

Therapy animals are often dogs, much like their service dog counterparts, but have different roles and legal designations. They undergo specialized training and provide psychological and physiological assistance to individuals.

Emotional support animals do not require specialized training but provide emotional support to disabled individuals. Emotional support dogs and their owners are not granted the same rights as service animals, but they do enjoy some consideration under the Fair Housing Act.

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  1. U.S. Department of Justice. Civil Rights Division. Disability Rights Section. Service Animals. Updated February 24, 2020.

  2. Helping Hands. Monkey Helpers.

  3. The Humane Society of the United States. The Fair Housing Act and Assistance Animals.