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Podcast: Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals

Service animals have been around for a long time, and we’re all familiar with them. These are animals (usually dogs) trained to assist persons with disabilities of one sort or another. We’re also seeing today a lot of “emotional support” animals. A lot of them. This week’s guest explains the difference between them, how they are used, and some surprising laws (or lack thereof) pertaining to them.

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About Our Guest

Stephanie L. Taylor has her master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the

University of Texas at San Antonio. She specializes in using animal-assisted therapy,

which includes service dogs and emotional support animals, to help military families

overcome their struggles that are unique to the military lifestyle. Stephanie lives in

Killeen, Texas. Learn more at



Editor’s NotePlease be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Narrator 1: Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health –  with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.

Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Show podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and with me as always is Vincent M. Wales and we have a great guest this week. Her name is Stephanie Taylor and Vincent, do you want to tell us all about her?

Vincent M. Wales: I’d be happy to. Stephanie Taylor has a master’s in clinical mental health counseling and she specializes in using animal assisted therapy including service dogs, emotional support animals, primarily from military families to overcome the struggles that are unique to the military lifestyle. Welcome to the show, Stephanie.

Stephanie Taylor: Well it’s great to be here.

Gabe Howard: It is our pleasure.

Vincent M. Wales: Yes it is. And I just want to say, I think you have a fantastic job. I mean, not only are you helping military families and stuff, but you’re doing it with animals, which is just awesome. And I want one.

Gabe Howard: I know that Vin asked if we had the budget to do this one live and in the studio so that he could play with the animals. But I understand that you also work with… when I think when people hear service animals that they think about like dogs. I think that’s the first thing that pops to mind. But it’s actually broader than that.

Vincent M. Wales: Seeing eye dogs and things like that.

Stephanie Taylor: So dogs are the most common animal, but the law does also allow miniature horses, which are a specific breed in and of itself. They’re not just ponies. And so, while they are not as commonly used, they are very good for mobility because they are more structurally designed and because they also live longer than most dogs. They can live up to their forties and most dogs live until about 15 or 17. So they are becoming more popular, but they do take longer to train and there are not as many trainers for them. So we are seeing more but more of them, but dogs are still more common.

Gabe Howard: Very cool. What would you say is the typical animal that you work with? Can you kind of walk us through… It’s kind of a big thing to say, Hey, I work with animals to help people overcome. Can you kind of explain that a little bit, give us some background?

Stephanie Taylor: So I usually work with dogs and horses, so I don’t just do the service animals, but I also do animal-assisted therapy and I’ve also used some chickens as well. It’s not as common, but other farm animals can also be used in therapy. But for the most part it is working with the dogs in the therapy session, because they can be taken more places or having clients out on a farm to work with horses to do sessions out there. So it kind of just depends on what the client needs and if they’re able to come up to the farm or if they have to come in to our office. So it kind of just varies depending on the client, but we’re able to use quite a few different animals.

Vincent M. Wales: So Stephanie, if you could break this down in terms that I can understand, what really is the difference as far as a consumer would go, on between a service dog and an emotional support animal aside from which animals qualify. How do you know which one you need?

Stephanie Taylor: So that is definitely the hardest thing that people have to figure out. I kind of equate them to different levels of care. So one person may need a just weekly individual therapy session and that works for them. Other people may need more intensive care, such as intensive outpatient or an inpatient care. And so that’s kind of how I look at the differences between emotional support animals and a service dog. So an emotional support animal is more of the weekly outpatient, lower level of care. They’re the ones that can get by with just having the animal in their house and with flying and they don’t need as much intensive care. For the service dogs, that’s where someone needs a higher level of care. So they may need the animal with them on a day-to-day basis or when they know they’re going to be in a lot of stressful situations. So the service animals are able to come with them on a daily basis to help them in action, basically, so they’re able to calm them down if they’re having a panic attack, alert them to moods, help prevent self-injury. Just different things that may need a closer eye from the animal.

Gabe Howard: We’ve heard a lot about emotional support animals in the news, you know, airlines are starting to crack down. It seems like everybody has one. There’s just been a lot about emotional support animals in the news and I have a dog. I love my dog. He is  the center of my world. Some days, my my wife gets jealous of my relationship with my dog, but I don’t consider my dog an emotional support animal even though I am emotionally supported by him. I guess the question I’m trying to ask is, are our emotional support animals just glorified pets or do they actually have a function, and how is somebody from the outside looking in supposed to ascertain if somebody is just trying to bring their dog into a restaurant unnecessarily?

Stephanie Taylor: So in essence, an emotional support animal is a glorified pet, but what makes the difference is the handler. So the person that needs the animal needs that extra care from their animal, so they may need a reason to get out of bed and for that a lot of different animals could help with that… a dog having to go out in the morning, a cat – usually they’re very attuned to making you wake up and feed them. So it’s really just that the person needs the extra care from the animal. And that is what makes the difference between a pet and an emotional support animal. And I believe that a lot of people are taking advantage of the situation because the laws are very wide open and they’re kind of designed that way on purpose so that they’re not creating undue hardship on the handler. But at the same time, it’s creating a loophole for a lot of people to exploit it. And so I think the best thing to do is to understand the laws. Businesses need to understand what their rights are. A lot of them don’t. Most certifications are just scams. They’re not legally required and anyone can go and buy them. Anyone can also go buy a vest on Amazon. And so the best way to determine if an animal is legit or not is by their behavior. While emotional support animals aren’t required any specific training, the Airline Access Act does require that they are well-behaved in public, even though that’s open to interpretation. That is what the law says right now. And so if a dog is barking, if they’re throwing a fit, if they’re being aggressive, then that’s not well-behaved in public. So by looking at how the animal is behaving is the best way to determine if one is actually legitimate or not. And yes, there are well-behaved pets that go in public, but at one point, we have to draw the line of creating more hardship for a person with a disability and just being able to say, you know, this is working right now. They’re not really causing a disturbance. A lot of people have invisible disabilities. So you may not even be able to look at them and see that they’re disabled. And so that also kind of creates a hardship of seeing if someone is legit or not. But right now the only way to really tell is by their behavior.

Gabe Howard: Thank you so much I really appreciate that answer. We’re going to step away to hear from our sponsor and we will be right back.

Narrator 2: This episode is sponsored by, secure, convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face-to-face session. Go to and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you.

Vincent M. Wales: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Stephanie Taylor talking about service dogs and emotional support animals. So let’s jump back to the psychiatric service dogs. One of the things that they’re capable of doing is reminding someone to take their meds on the proper schedule. How do they do that?

Stephanie Taylor: With psychiatric service dogs, they can be trained to respond to a alarm. So if someone has an alarm on their phone of when they need to take their meds, the animal can start to realize what time it is each day and actually start to alert the person before the alarm even goes off, or they can fade out the alarm so that the animal knows, at these times, I need to remind my human to take their meds. So think of it as if an animal knows that you’re gonna be waking up every single day at a certain time, that’s when they start to annoy you about getting up and feeding them or letting them out. And it sucks when you’re trying to sleep in, but they know, OK, you know, 6:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., we wake up and we go do this. And so the same concept is applied to medication reminders. They know at a specific time each day, they need to alert you to take your meds so that they can, you know, get their treat or they can get whatever reward that comes with that task.

Vincent M. Wales: Impressive.

Gabe Howard: And of course the benefit of this is… I know that some listeners might think, well if you can just set an alarm on your phone, why do you need to train a dog? And the answer is, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it’s all about self-sabotage behavior. It’s the forgetting to set the alarm on your phone. It’s the hitting snooze on the alarm. It’s the ignoring the alarm. You know, dogs aren’t so easy to ignore because they want to complete that task and you can’t snooze a puppy.  As much as you want to. Is that an accurate way of looking at it?

Stephanie Taylor: That is completely accurate. A lot of times, people will either forget to set the alarm or they may turn it off in their sleep. I know a lot of people do that when they don’t want to get up in the morning. Or they could forget their phone, their phone may die, so they don’t always have that option with them. So with the dog, the dog doesn’t need batteries, the dog doesn’t need to be reminded to make that alert. So there are a way to really make sure that you are taking your medication or doing whatever task you need to do because a dog can be trained to continually annoy you until you do what it is that you need to do. They can bring the meds to you. So it’s one less step you have to take. They can bring you a water bottle, as well. And so there is a lot of ways that kind of cuts off your way of self-sabotaging.

Vincent M. Wales: OK so, let’s say that I, as a person with a mental health issue, am considering a service dog or ESA. At what point should I consider it, and how would I go about getting one?

Stephanie Taylor: Usually, most people have tried many other ways of managing their mental health or physical health, as well. And it’s not working. They may be in chronic pain and the medication isn’t working. It may be that the side effects of their medication is making it even difficult for them. So it’s usually after other things have been attempted and they’re not working out as well. So like I mentioned earlier, most certifications online are just scams. They’re not legally required. So the best thing is to go to your doctor and have a conversation with them and have them write you a letter of recommendation, basically just saying, you know, these are their symptoms and they would benefit from an animal. While that isn’t required for public access, it is required for housing, if you rent, and for flying. So it’s mostly a collaboration with your doctor, your therapist, to determine if this is the right path for you and to see if maybe there’s other things that they could try, as well.

Vincent M. Wales: Are there particular breeds that are more adept at being a psychiatric service dogs than others?

Stephanie Taylor: Yes. The most common breeds are poodles labs and golden retrievers. Now, a lot of people don’t necessarily like these breeds or they don’t work for them for one thing or another. Some breeds, such as herding dogs… so, German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds… those types of breeds can sometimes get possessive of their human. So they may notice they are getting anxious and then try to get defensive and they may show aggressive behaviors. So that’s why they’re usually not recommended, but there are a lot of these breeds that have worked out. They just require extra training and extra screening when you’re looking for an animal. While that doesn’t apply as much to the emotional support animal, that is looked at when you’re looking at a psychiatric service dog. There is also some dogs that they may need the mental health but then they also need a secondary function such as mobility, and then for those you have to have a certain height and weight for the dog. So Great Danes are usually looked at when you’re looking at those. Doodles are also becoming more popular. So, a doodle is a cross between a poodle and another breed of dog. So like a Golden Doodle or a German Shepadoodle is a German shepherd and a poodle. But their temperament isn’t as easily predictable as a pure bred dog. So that’s just something you may have to try out more dogs to get one that will actually work for the psych work, because a lot of dogs will wash out or fail training because they don’t have the right temperament for it or they can’t complete the tasks that are needed. And so that’s why a lot of people go with those three main breeds, because they do have the most success rates for this type of work.

Gabe Howard: That does make sense. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about your work with military families. One of the things that you say is that you help military families overcome struggles that are unique to the military lifestyle. Can you give us some examples of that and talk about that for a little bit?

Stephanie Taylor: Yes. So the most common ones are PCSing, or their permanent change of station, which is basically moving every two to three years. There is a limited support system for them because they do move so often, they usually have to find new friends, their away from family. And there’s also the deployment aspect. So, spouses and children are separated for six months to a year and a half. So those are some of the unique aspects of military families. So one of the things that I do is do the equine assisted therapy and I do the consulting for the service animals. So helping them get some resources, helping them build better coping skills, learning how to be more resilient, even though almost every military person hates that word ‘cuz it’s so overused. And being able to weather the challenges of military families and create a stronger bond within the family to be able to face these different challenges.

Vincent M. Wales: Thank you for that. You have written a book. Can you please tell us about it?

Stephanie Taylor: So I published the book, Animal that Heal, this past September. And I really wanted to be able to create a resource for people that were looking at service dogs or emotional support animals. What I found was that a lot of mental health professionals and a lot of people that were interested in the animals were getting a lot of bad information or weren’t able to find accurate information. So I wrote this book as a way to put all of this information in one place. So I not only looked at the history of these animals, but how they can help, the research behind it, and we look over the different laws so they know what their rights actually are for these animals. And then I also wrote it in a way that gave the information to mental health professionals so that they can help guide their clients through this process if they are thinking of using these animals for one of their clients.

Vincent M. Wales: Very good.

Gabe Howard: That is very cool. And you also have a web site at Is that correct?

Stephanie Taylor: Yes.

Gabe Howard: Stephanie, thank you so much for being here. Are there any final thoughts that you have for our audience about emotional support animals and service animals that our audience should know?

Stephanie Taylor: These animals can be very helpful. And so, if you feel that one of these animals would help you and you’re getting some pushback, don’t give up and just keep trying. Even if you have to try some other options first before your doctor or your therapist would be willing to look this option, just keep trying and eventually, hopefully, it will actually work out for you.

Vincent M. Wales: Excellent. Stephanie, thank you for being on the show and thank you for what you do. Because I think it’s pretty awesome!

Stephanie Taylor: Well thanks for having me on. I really enjoyed this.

Gabe Howard: It is very cool and thank you everyone for tuning in. Remember you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private, online counseling anytime, anywhere by visiting We will see everybody next week.

Narrator 1: Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at If you have feedback about the show, please email

About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website,



Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at and




Podcast: Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals

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APA Reference
Central Podcast, T. (2019). Podcast: Service Animals vs. Emotional Support Animals. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Feb 2019 (Originally: 7 Feb 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 5 Feb 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.